The farmers’ battle against pests, weeds

Michael Ssali

What you need to know:

  • Cassava Brown Streak Disease and Cassava Mosaic are reducing cassava production and the country is producing a mere 6.7 million tonnes annually 

The climatic conditions along the equator are said to be quite favourable to the multiplication of parasites and pests that farmers must continuously fight.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) pests and other vectors account for 20 to 40 percent of food loss annually.

To fight the pests, weeds, and parasites most farmers use agrochemicals manufactured to protect crops and livestock from disease.

Yet on January 17, 2024 the committee appointed by Frank Tumwebaze, Minister of Agriculture, back in September 2021 to investigate the efficacy of the chemicals, released its report which indicated that some of the agrochemicals sold in Uganda are counterfeit. It called for stringent measures to prevent the position from getting worse and to sensitize farmers more about proper application of agrichemicals.

The report also mentioned the presence of pests and crop diseases that have no known chemical cure and are fast wiping out major food and cash crops such as banana, sweet potato, cassava, Irish potato, maize, and Robusta coffee among many others.  Who can imagine Uganda without those crops? The committee composed of eminent scientists and other professionals reported that  banana bacterial wilt disease causes the loss of seven out of ten expected bunches, resulting in annual economic losses of approximately $299.6m.

“The sweet potato weevil and virus infestation cause a total loss of approximately $6.7m. The late blight disease that has become resistant to herbicides affects six out of every ten Irish potatoes, yet the national demand for the crop in 2015 was up to 1,000,000 metric tonnes. The Cassava Brown Streak Disease and Cassava Mosaic are reducing cassava production and the country is producing a mere 6.7 million tonnes annually compared to a potential 30 million tonnes. Similarly, due to drought and pests, Ugandan farmers’ average maize yield is 2.7 tonnes per hectare, compared to a potential 9 tonnes per hectare.”

The committee report further says that livestock represents about 16 percent of the agricultural GDP and about 4 percent of the national GDP.

However, the country continues to experience recurrent outbreaks of endemic, emerging, and re-emerging animal and/or human diseases including African Swine Fever (ASF), Peste des Petits Ruminants (PPR), Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD), Lumpy Skin Disease (LSD), sheep and goat pox virus, brucellosis, hemorrhagic fevers including Ebola and highly pathogenic avian influenza hemorrhagic fever (CCHF), ticks and tick-borne diseases, anthrax, and rabies.

Mr Michael Ssali is a veteran journalist,