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Cassava diseases threaten success of proposed ethanol plant



Reduction in cassava production due to cassava mosaic disease (CMD) and cassava brown streak disease (CBSD) threatens food security. 

As Uganda takes steps to make cassava an eco-friendly feedstock for ethanol production, agricultural experts say the crop still faces disastrous diseases that have perennially caused severe yield losses and threatened food security.

Dr Titus Alitai, a principal scientist at the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) contends that any reduction in cassava production due to cassava mosaic disease (CMD) and cassava brown streak disease (CBSD) threatens not only food security, but would also cause havoc to government plans of supporting a project that seeks to utilize cassava pulp for ethanol production.

At the tail end of last year, President Yoweri Museveni pledged government support for a project in the northern part of the country that produces denatured ethanol stoves and that is intended, in the long term, to establish ethanol derived from cassava a sustainable alternative cooking fuel.

Taking a long view, Museveni noted that if the project obtained a firm footing, Uganda would be able to export fuel made from cassava to other countries in the region.

But that depends on a consistent supply of cassava, which has struggled to overcome disease issues. CMD and CBSD still remain a threat and that status quo has been helped by poor farming practices, such as recycling seed cuttings beyond recommended times.

“On the CMD and CBSD mitigation front, there have been inroads made in recent years, principally with the development and distribution of improved cassava varieties such as NASE14, NASE 19 and NARO CASS 1 to farmers by the National Agricultural Research Organization,” Alitai said.

It is not clear, however, if some of the resistant cassava varieties that will likely be supplied by the National Crops Resources Research Institute, which is one of the six National Agricultural Research Institutes mandated to conduct, carry out research and knowledge generation on how to deal with crop diseases such as CMD, will be genetically modified (GM) cassava.

Research findings from the National Agricultural Research Organization have shown that GM cassava is resistant to CMD and CBSD.

Many scientists across the East African region have advocated for the adoption of GM cassava as a means of sustainably enhancing Uganda’s food security. But the country’s environment policy regarding the adoption of biotechnology has in recent years been erratic, if not checkered.

In 2017, a biotechnology and biosafety bill was passed, but it was referred back by the President for adjustments. It was passed yet again in 2018, but with stern liability sections that analysts say impede biotechnology development in the country.

In Uganda, CMD accounts for an estimated annual yield loss of more than 60 million US dollars and it has, by all accounts, been singled out as the biggest economic constraint to the production of cassava in sub-Saharan Africa.

The impact of CMD on Uganda’s cassava production was not considered grave until the late 1980s when its devastating effect was experienced in the north-west of the country. The outbreak caused the disappearance of a cassava landrace called Ebwanatereka, which was widely distributed in the country in the 1980s.

Cassava brown streak disease, on the other hand, is thought to be the most devastating cassava disease in southern, eastern and central Africa. It reportedly can cause up to 100% yield loss.

As a means of combating CMD, a Ugandan computer scientist Dr Jennifer Rose Aduwo has developed a computer application based on an artificial neural network that can automatically detect the disease.

Dr Jennifer Rose Aduwo

Aduwo, the Dean of the Uganda Management Institute’s School of Distance Learning and Information Technology, revealed that the application has already provided an accurate rate of 97.2% for CMD’s classification and 88% for the disease’s severity grading.

“This model will help reduce the high cassava yield losses Uganda suffers annually due to CMD,” she said.

“What is expected is that timely and fast information provided by the model from farmers or agricultural extension workers, at the click of a button from an internet-connected smartphone which has captured cassava leaf images from gardens for the disease’s detection/classification, will be sent to a team at the National Crops Resources Research Institute at Namulonge who will, in turn, develop effective disease contingencies and supply CMD resistant varieties to affected regions across the country,” she added.

“The process of capturing the cassava leaf image from the cassava garden and sending to a computer server for CMD detection/classification takes less than a minute, provided there is an internet connection.”

Alitai said Aduwo’s app will improve on the efficiency and scale at which the CMD disease’s data is collected.

“With her app, we shall be able to know which areas around the country need speedy interventions. Previously, we did surveys, but the processing of data took months but with this digital platform, data on CMD will be availed within a short time.”

In the past 10 years, several research papers on the CMD by Aduwo have been published and have received golden opinions, for good measures.

Her research publication journey on automating CMD set forth in 2010 when Google gave Aduwo and her two research colleagues a $10,000 grant. At length, they produced the paper entitled “Automated learning-based diagnosis of CMD”.  Several other papers followed in subsequent years.

Original Post: New Vision

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Falling coffee prices, reduced output forecasts rattle Uganda farmers



There has been a slump in international coffee prices and shipping costs in the last quarter of 2022

Uganda’s coffee industry is walking into a challenging 2023 defined by falling prices and diminished output forecasts following the recent dry spell that hit major growing areas.

While the sector enjoyed a boom between 2020 and 2022 – with surging coffee prices, rising export volumes and considerable incomes for farmers – decline in international shipping costs and improved production forecasts in Brazil triggered a slump in coffee prices in the last quarter of 2022, according to industry players.

International shipping costs dropped from record highs of $10,000 per container charged on certain sea routes in January 2022 to less than $2,000. Shipping fees charged per 20-foot container ferried from Indonesia to North America, for example, are estimated at $800-$1,000 currently.

Consequently, local and international coffee prices have dropped since October 2022.

International robusta coffee prices fell from an average price of $2,400 per tonne to $1,856 per tonne towards the end of last year, according to industry data. Local robusta coffee prices declined from Ush7,200 ($1.9) per kilogramme to Ush5,800 ($1.6) per kilogramme during the second half of 2022 while Arabica coffee prices fell from Ush11,000 ($2.9) per kilogramme to Ush8,000 ($2) per kilogramme in the period.

In 2021, average coffee prices stood at more than Ush15,000 ($4) per kilogramme.

Dry spell

Robusta coffee production accounts for more than 60 percent of Uganda’s overall coffee output.

Besides gloomy coffee price forecasts for 2023, a severe dry spell in the past six months could pose a huge threat to coffee production levels. The weather affected major coffee-growing areas like the Central region and risks cutting this year’s output to around 5.5 million bags, industry players forecast.

“Brazil and Vietnam are headed for a bumper coffee harvest this year while India and Indonesia have discounted their local coffee prices in a way that has undercut Uganda’s growth momentum on the international market,” said Robert Byaruhanga, chief executive of local exporter Funzo Coffee Ltd.

Post-Covid shift

Asian and Latin American coffee exporters are regaining dominance in European and North American markets after the lockdown period because of the lower coffee prices, reduced freight charges, shorter port clearance turnaround times and reasonable coffee quality grades, Byaruhanga explained.

Ugandan farmers are now holding onto their coffee produce in anticipation of better prices.

Overall coffee exports stood at 6.26 million bags valued at $862.28 million in 2021/22 compared to 6.08 million bags worth $559.16 million registered in 2020/21, data from the Uganda Coffee Development Authority shows.

An estimated 447,162. 60 kilogramme bags of coffee valued at $64.1 million were exported in November 2022 at an average price of $2.39 per kilogramme — 6 US cents lower than the average price of $2.45 per kilogramme posted in October 2022.

Original Source: Daily Monitor

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Over 40 goats die of PPR disease in Madi-Okollo



At least 43 goats have died of Peste des Petits Ruminants (PPR) disease, also known as ‘goat plague’ and several others are undergoing treatment in Madi-Okollo district.

Madi-Okollo district veterinary officer, Dr Charles Onzima, says the viral disease, which is related to rinderpest in sheep as well as goats, has claimed the lives of goats in Olali parish in Ogoko sub-county.

He adds that PPR disease was confirmed in the district after 500 local and 94 Boer goats were supplied to families in Olali parish under a poverty eradication programme that he suspects infected the local goats.

43 of the boar goats died while 10 of the local goats of the communities also died of PPR disease.

Onzima says immediately after receiving information about the disease, the veterinary officers got the goats manifesting the signs of PPR that include sudden onset of depression, fever, discharge from the eyes and nose, sores in the mouth, breathing difficulty and death among others.

He says that they have already had three rounds of vaccination for the available goats in the affected area.

Original Source: New Vision Via

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Artisanal gold miners defy government on mercury use



In October, President Museveni signed into the law the Mining and Minerals Act 2022. One of the key provisions in the law is the banning of mercury use in mining activities.

Artisanal and small scale gold miners in Uganda use mercury to separate gold from the ores, a method they say is cost effective, fast and easy to use. During this process, mercury is mixed with gold containing materials to form a mercury gold amalgam which is then heated to obtain the gold from the sediments.

The miners do the processing without wearing any personal protective gear. However, different Non- Government and Civil Society Organizations have over the years warned these miners against using mercury as it poses serious health threats to human life and dangerous to the environment.

But even with the government banning the use of mercury and several warning about the dangers it imposes, gold miners are not yet ready to stop using the substance especially since the government is not providing any viable alternative method they can use.

In Tiira mining site, Tiira town council, Busia district, gold miners expressed their concerns on this ban. Stephen Engidhoh, the Eastern Uganda chairman of Uganda Association of Artisanal and Small Scale Mining (UGAASM) said that mining has created jobs for over 30,000 people in Busia alone and with the government ban on use of mercury, many of them are likely to remain jobless.

He noted that in every sub county in Busia district, there are people during the exploration of minerals but the large gold discoveries here should not be an excuse to eliminate the small-scale miners from the mining sector because these minerals belong to all of them and it where they make a living from.

He added that if government wants this directive to be implemented, it should enforce it gradually and after finding an alternative method the miners can use.

“Government should first sensitize the miners about the dangers of using mercury before eliminating it. By government coming to abruptly ban the use of mercury, it is already creating indirect employment for smugglers to smuggle it into the country than they think they are eliminating,” Engidoh said.

Paul Angesu, the chairman on Tiira Landlords and Artisanal Miners Association said that even though they have been told that mercury is dangerous, for all the years they have used, they have never seen anyone experiencing the danger they say it causes.

“The government still needs to carry out thorough investigations on the possible dangers of using mercury so that it presents to the local miners with practical evidence that indeed mercury is dangerous and this will make us to easily stop using it,” Angesu said.

He added that sometime back, the Uganda National Association of Community and Occupational Health (UNACOH) came and took samples of mercury from the miners but they were not able to submit in the feedback for them to know if indeed they are indeed being affected by mercury.

An alternative gold extraction method which has been suggested to the artisanal gold miners is the use of borax method’ a technique of artisanal gold mining which use borax (a chemical compound) as a flux to purify gold. However, the miners say the government has not taken the initiative of introducing this method to them and training them on how to use it.

“They want us to use borax as an alternative to mercury but most of us don’t even know how borax looks like or even how it works. How do they expect us to start using something they have never taken the initiative to introduce to us?” Angesu asked.

Ramadhan Birenge, a gold miner in Namayingo district has tried using borax before after an NGO brought a sample of it to them. He however said that there is no any another way a miner can use to get gold clearly and quickly other than using mercury.

“The borax they are telling us to use is very expensive and not easily accessible to us, we don’t even know where it is sold and to get gold through using borax is a very long process yet mercury is a very easy, shorter process and relatively cheap.”

John Bosco Bukya, the chairman of Uganda Artisanal Miners Association told The Observer that they are law abiding citizens and since they have tested the consequences of operating in irregularities, they have no big problem with banning of mercury use in mining areas.

But however, before government bans it, it should provide the miners with an alternative processing reagent. He noted that government may not succeed with the ban and not because the miners don’t want to stop using mercury, but because the available alternatives must be effective, efficient and affordable.

“We don’t know anything about the borax method which they say can be an alternative. We don’t know where it is manufactured from, neither its cost or effectiveness. Government should first train the miners of an alternative method, test its effectiveness and efficiency before banning the method currently being used. If it is more efficient, definitely miners will stop using mercury,” Bukya said.

He also advised government to first sensitize these miners about the dangers of mercury before enforcing it and then phase it out gradually and not immediately because it is going to affect the livelihoods of Ugandans who are in this sector and yet it is the responsibility of government to make sure that all Ugandans thrive in their businesses.

Mercury is smuggled into Uganda through the porous borders with Kenya by cartels which makes its trade illegal. It is then discreetly sold to artisanal miners in Busia with a Kg costing between Shs 600,000 to Shs 1 million.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), exposure to mercury, even small amounts may have toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems and on lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes as well as pose a threat to the development of the child in the womb for pregnant women.

Most of these ailments manifest over time. People who burn the gold usually take in large doses of mercury because they directly inhale the metals but those who may get it after eating food or drinking water that is contaminated with mercury take it in slowly and it accumulates over time.

Mercury also contaminates the soil making it infertile and unable to support agriculture, water and air. Mercury emitted to the air can also circulate around and contaminate water, fish and wildlife far from the mine from which it was released which affects the biodiversity.

Original Source: The Observer

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