Covid-19 pandemic and crop disease epidemics

Saturday July 11 2020


By Michael J. Ssali

The arrival of Covid-19 late last year has disrupted the economies of many countries across the world.

At the time of writing this column the disease has reportedly killed more than 500,000 people in some 188 countries and about 12 million infections have been registered.

In Uganda, where we are yet to see a Covid-19 death, the number of infections is close to 1,000 and in the recent weeks the rate of infection has been much higher.

My attention has been drawn to an essay in a digital publication, The Conversation, dated June 10, 2020 and titled, “Why it’s so critical to continuously monitor and manage plant diseases.”

Co-authored by academicians Bernard Slipper, Marinda Sippers, and Jolanda Rous, of the University of Pretoria, the essay highlights the need to monitor the spread of both plant and human diseases.

Illness or death from a human disease like Covid-19 is as bad as an illness or death from a food deficiency problem such as malnutrition and hunger.


If today Covid-19 is spreading across the world and causing illness and death, there are crop disease epidemics that are wiping out food staples, fodder grasses and medicinal plants.

A disease like Banana Bacterial Wilt (BBW) which threatens to wipe out bananas and other diseases destroying crops such as cassava, maize, sweet potatoes, and other food plants should be seen as dangerous to human life as Covid-19 because food is life.

What destroys human food is actually bound to cause death to humans and it ought to be closely monitored and kept at bay.

Our government has good reason to be so much concerned about the Covid-19 pandemic but it ought to show equal concern about the crop diseases and pests that are slowly wiping out our food crops and fodder grass like elephant grass.

We have heard political leaders talking confidently about the possibility of our Ugandan scientists coming up with a Covid-19 vaccine soon.

The same leaders should also demonstrate readiness to accept food crop disease biotechnical solutions that have successfully been arrived at by the same scientists in our agricultural research institutions.

Mr Mischael Ssali is a veteran journalist and a farmer