Biotic stress is a recurring problem in farming

Saturday May 4 2019

Michael J. Ssali

Michael J. Ssali 

By Michael J. Ssali

One of the biggest threats to agriculture in Uganda today is the way we manage biotic stresses such as stubborn weeds, pests, and plant diseases.

Farmers spend a lot of time and money fighting stubborn weeds and pests. Farming then becomes expensive and unduly laborious often resulting in reduced yields and low profits.

Some people especially the youth develop a negative attitude towards farming. Unfortunately, with the onset of climate change, we are hosts to stubborn crop diseases, some of which have no chemical cure.

Many parasitic weeds and pests can however be fought with the spray of herbicides and pesticides. Trouble is that not all of our farmers can afford the cost of the herbicides and pesticides.
Yet for the few of them who are in a position to buy the agro-chemicals farming has become more expensive and less profitable.

Biotic stresses are therefore not only impeding the country’s agricultural yields, they are also raising food prices given our rapidly expanding population.
We must also keep in mind that not all our farmers have a clear understanding of safe and environmentally sound use of agro-chemicals.

We certainly do not want our agriculture to be totally reliant on chemicals given their well-known disruptive capacity to the natural environment, to biodiversity, and to human health.
Farmers have always been encouraged to resort to integrated pest management strategies that do not require chemical pesticides but such strategies have not been really successful in the fight of such pests as stem borers, and diseases like cassava mosaic, and banana bacterial wilt, among several others.

Given the new agricultural production challenges such as incurable diseases wrought in our major cash and food crops by recently arrived pests we should not take too long to accept and to adopt new pest management technologies from both international and national agricultural research centres. This is because their crop breeding initiatives, such as genetic engineering, are aimed at effectively controlling the diseases without disrupting natural ecosystems and with no proven risks to human health. We just need a little more confidence in the power of science and its capacity to solve problems.