African countries have been urged to create a collaborative ecosystem of sharing all agricultural data to unlock their hidden potential, an effort that could boost the growth of crop production and food security.
During the launch of a free online information resource by the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI) at Sankara Hotel, Nairobi, experts expounded how access to accurate data can aid farmers benefit from higher yields through better pest control.
Speaking the launch of the BioProtection Portal, CABI’s director general for development Dr Dennis Rangi expressed the need to explore the hidden treasures in data in Africa.
“This requires us not only to make the data available but also to ensure that we strengthen the capacity to analyse and act on this data in the places which have the most need for it,” he said.
Citing the current challenges the country is facing to control the locust menace, Dr Rangi said Kenya needs fast response to such unexpected situations, where data analytics play a crucial role.
“We are experiencing a revolution where some of the longest standing and most potent issues can be solved by utilising the boundless pool of knowledge at our disposal,” he said, highlighting coronavirus as another challenge the portal will provide data about.
The online resource, launched in partnership with the Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock Fisheries and Cooperatives, makes the country the first in the world to own a free bioprotection portal designed to help growers and advisors to identify, source and apply biocontrol and biopesticide products.
“I appreciate the partnership that CABI is developing between Kenya’s national institutions and private biocontrol manufacturers that has led to a list of registered products now being embedded in this tool and made available to Kenya’s farming and advisory community,” said Prof Hamadi Boga, Principal Secretary at the Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture Livestock and Fisheries.
Blending emerging technologies with authoritative content will be key to finding practical solutions to Africa’s agricultural problems, especially through putting knowledge into the hands of end users.
Unfortunately, much of this knowledge is neither discoverable nor accessible and so cannot be used to benefit those who need it most. Huge reservoirs of knowledge are still locked away in silos by most African economies.
“CABI alone has over 60 years of research into many aspects of integrated pest management held in hard copy archives which are only accessible by physical inspection.”
Through the Plantwise Programme research that improved early detection of plant pests, the British organisation learnt that there was a lack of awareness about biological pest control methods as alternatives to chemical pesticides
“This portal has therefore been developed as a direct response to these findings and will aim to provide extension workers, agronomists and farmers with the information they lack,” said Dr Rangi.
Globally, an estimated 40 percent of crops are lost to pests – such as the devastating maize pest fall armyworm and the tomato leaf miner, and more recently the desert locust – as well as a range of plant diseases.
The widespread use of chemical pesticides to fight crop pests alone has been proven unsustainable either economically or environmentally in the long run especially when factoring in impacts exacerbated by climate change.
“The portal is not just of benefit to growers but also to national authorities responsible for the regulation of plant protection products, private-sector decision-makers – such as cooperatives and organisations operating voluntary certification schemes – and biocontrol manufacturers looking to promote wider uptake of their products,” said Prof Boga.
From a policy perspective, this could prove a turning point in Kenya’s quest for food security, feeding the population with healthier and safer food.