Citizen Science and ICT for advancing the prevention and control of Banana Xanthomonas Wilt
In an effort to the help smallholder farmers fight banana disease, the ICT4BXW Project Team developed ICT-based tools for banana agronomy guidelines and early warning system to control Banana Xanthomonas Wilt (BXW).
The broader goal of this project is to leverage citizen science and ICT to prevent and control BXW in East and Central Africa, starting with Rwanda. The digital tools that have been deployed (including BXW Android App, USSD-based Agronomic Extension, and IVR-Based Remote Training) are gradually improving the reality of farmers but providing decision-support for banana management and sustainable production.
Banana: An Indispensable Crop
Banana in Rwanda is a key crop in the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and occupying around a quarter of arable land.
Banana is an important part of peoples’ daily diet and providing income and food security to millions of smallholder households and it plays an important role in the social life of the populations in the African Great Lakes Region.
BXW-A Threat to Banana Production
This staple crop (Banana) is threatened by Banana Xanthomonas Wilt (BXW). BXW is a bacterial disease commonly spread from plantation to plantation by insects and infected cutting tools and has spread throughout the region resulting in production losses both at farm and national level. Read more about the disease in the region as discussed by McCampbell et al. here. Tracking the potential outspread of the disease in order to set up prevention policies has been challenging since it appeared in the region.
Lack of Effective Control
Lack of knowledge on sustainable control practices to counter the disease spread is a major problem in the fight against BXW. The project is reinforcing use of sustainable control practices through the use of ICT tools. An effective management approach has been available for a number of years, yet BXW continues to be the scourge of banana farmers across the country.
Lack of Surveillance System
A surveillance system is required for effective control and eventual elimination of the disease for improved livelihoods of the citizens.
Multiplatform Delivery of Digital Tools
BXW App It is an android-based smartphone application that is available and accessible for download in google play store. The App provides well illustrated content (Including pictures, texts, audios and videos) that guides users to prevent and control BXW, identify BXW infected banana plants, and access proven agronomic information for banana farming.
WhatApp-based Chatbot A personalized, interactive WhatsApp chatbot provides Farmer Promoters and Farmers with practical guidance on digitizing BXW disease diagnostic, prevention and management, and equip them with skills for advanced management of their banana plantations. Content can be accessed by sending the word “Kirabiranya”, a Kinyarwanda name for BXW disease, to WhatsApp +250 790 139 375.
8-4-5 service This is a system that provides extension information and banana agronomic advice to farmers through a proprietary 8-4-5 service platform that was developed by project partner (Viamo), hosted by a mobile network provider. The service allows for active and passive access by all farmers, either through smartphone or basic phone.
Remote training The project developed and deployed extension curriculum using the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology, and has remotely trained over 1,000 Farmer Promoters on best banana agronomic practices, digital extension delivery, and BXW control, with 98% completion rate achieved over a 4-week period of delivery.
BEYOND DIGITAL: REACHING BANANA FARMERS WITH INNOVATIVE CONTENT
Non-digital decision-support resources (infographic booklets, brochures, farmers’ calendar and Posters) can be easily accessed by both Farmer Promoters and Farmers at their convenience. These showcase banana agronomic advices, symptoms of BXW, and how to prevent or control BXW in farmers’ fields. So far, 2,500 posters and 6,500 booklets have been printed and distributed nationally, in the local language with 98% of users citing their usefulness.
EARLY WARNING ALERTS FOR PROACTIVE BXW CONTROL
The deployment of the BXW App has enabled the delivery of early warning alerts on BXW risk, directly to Farmers’ mobile phones. Based on quarterly pooling of the data, RAB is duly equipped to assess the severity and occurrence of new BXW disease incidence across various districts of Rwanda. The alerts inform farmers about the severity of BXW disease in their area, provide management and control measures, and best agronomic practices to apply in their banana fields to avoid potential losses.
Through the eyes of the Donor (GIZ)
Visiting two farmers in Kayonza district and meeting both associated farmer promoters, as well as RAB extensionists offered me insights that go well beyond what reading a report, however good, from Germany can. Their testimonies indicated the success of the banana management methods, and both farmers were very positive about the project. Previously, they would have lost entire farms to BXW because they cut down all the banana suckers for fear of spreading. Now, with little to no losses, farmers have increased the area under banana cultivation and can sell surpluses and have thus improved their livelihoods.
These tools are promising as the country promotes the use of ICT for a modernized agriculture. We will work together with Rwanda Agriculture Board to harmonize these digital tools and their integration in the existing agricultural extension delivery system.Martine Nezerwa - Chief Digital Officer,Ministry of Agriculture
These materials will help us a lot. They will enable us to have a basis for training fellow farmers, by referring to them to provide factual information on BXW disease prevention and banana agronomy in generalNiyombaza Alfred, Ruhango district
The use of BXW App increases my confidence as a FP because it provides clear-cut banana management and BXW control guidelines that can easily be communicated to farmers.Kambanda Jean Bosco, Kayonza district
I was happy to receive the training. It increased my knowledge on the best banana agricultural practices, such as mulching, the best way to do the Single Diseased-Stem Removal, and various key information for better management of my banana field.Musabyimana Augustin, Gatsibo District
It was an interesting experience. It was my first time to attend an online training of the kind. The lessons were very interesting, I couldn’t miss any lesson, because they contained the information on banana agronomy that I needed to increase banana production and prevent BXW disease in my field.Mukashema Marie Louise, Rubavu District
These materials will help me to prevent BXW and protect my banana farm. Furthermore, these materials will serve as fact check while delivering BXW control message to farmers, and we will place them at public centers, so that farmers can be able to access them and get all the information on banana agronomy and disease prevention, all the time.Murekatete Claudine, Muhanga district
I consider these digital tools as my mobile farming advisory. These are great inputs to effectively deliver agricultural extension services to farmers in my village and its neighboring areas. Thanks to these digital tools, I am currently applying the new and effective practice, the Single Diseased-Stem Removal (SDSR) technique, to fight BXW, hence experiencing a production increase.Muvunyi Jean Nepomuscene, Gatsibo District
Thanks to agronomic advice from these tools, I have applied the Single Diseased-Stem Removal technique in my field, and it helped to eradicate the Banana Xanthomonas Wilt disease in my farm. I would have lost all my banana plants, but now I can save some of them, therefore increase production, and be able to afford my family’s needs including paying health insurance and school fees for my children. I conclude by requesting more trainings for us farmers to deepen our knowledge and adequately navigate through these digital toolsPatrice Muhimbabwenge, Rulindo District
Through BXW App. I learned best farming practices from this app. Furthermore, thanks to the App, we are now applying the Single Diseased-Stem Removal technique for best banana agronomy and increase production. Moreover, I learned that through 845 service, I am able to access the banana agronomic information. I did not know of that service. I used to dial this line to listen to other programs such as reproductive health, folk drama etc. I will also be looking for banana information.Uwingabire Florence, Gatsibo District
The project offered me a smartphone, in which I have installed and navigate BXW App. After the training, I have skills on how to fight the BXW disease in field by using clean/disinfected tools. In addition, I am sharing all the skills gained with my neighbouring farmersMutuyimana Elisabeth, Rulindo district
Major Project Insights
At the start of the project Phase-I, a baseline survey was conducted across the study villages in the eight districts as shown in the map.
This provided more information regarding the communities and their BXW experience among other factors.
Social Networks Analysis
ICT4BXW project adopts Social network analysis (SNA) approach to detect and interpret patterns of social linkages among actors, and to identify the potential entry point(s) for improved adoption of the target innovation (tool and system). Read more about Social network analysis here, Hermans et al.
This approach suggests that farmers cooperate, consult and exchange in regard to adoption of new technologies instead of acting individually. By this, the project will develop a virtual communication platform to provide real time data on the geographical occurrence of BXW.
Co-Creation of Surveillance Tool
A step-wise Participatory Inclusive Technology Development (PITD) process was adopted to co-develop a surveillance tool that offers rich content for end-users.
The first PITD provided the required elements for prototyping (the key structure and initial content) of the BXW tool and platform, while the next PITD focused on testing the mock-up version of the tool with the farmer promoters.
Real-Time Surveillance in Action
In order to deploy a BXW surveillance tool and system that fully captures contextual realities and user-preferences, the project follows a Participatory and inclusive Technology Design (PITD) approach to design and test the envisioned tool.
THE BXW APP
Effective communication is hinged on clarity and context richness of the app content. This app has well-illustrated content through pictures, audios and videos. The data from the app can be accessed and managed through the dashboard to enable [near] real-time monitoring of the disease spread and other patterns and provide basis for effective actions by decision makers.
Scaling Readiness Workshop
With the Phase-I achievements of the project having translated to access and impact among Rwandan banana farmers, insights and ideas have been generated and are expected to guide the direction for the anticipated Phase-II of the project.
This current phase is focussed on scaling the project innovations and products through the Scaling Readiness approach with collaborators from Viamo, Arifu and MangoTree/Linking pin.
A virtual/Physical workshop was held in May/ June 2021 for planning, cordinating and strategizing of the nationwide scaling activities in Rwanda.
Multiplatform Delivery of Co-developed Tools
Multiplatform delivery of co-developed tools for national control and prevention of Banana Xanthomonas Wilt (BXW) in Rwanda is the major goal of the project's phase II. The digital an non-digital tools for control and surveillance of BXW through our partners are listed below
- Agronomy & BXW Control (ABC) Toolkit for banana farmers, by Linking pin/ Mango Tree
- Interactive Chatbot: Smartphone-based digital surveillance tool for BXW prevention and control, by Arifu.
- USSD/IVR/SMS: Stepwise diagnostic tool and decision support for support for effective BXW management, by Viamo.
- Remote training innovation for farmer promoters, by Viamo.
- Banana management, by RAB.
Scaling Champions/ Enablers Selected and Trained
This phase aims to reach more than 252,000 farmers in Rwanda. 900 Farmer promotors will be trained and provided with smartphones. Out of the 900, 150 farmer promotors from 25 districts, who are our scaling champions (selected via SNR through IAMO team), will, in return, share the skills with their peer farmers in their respective villages.
A training was organised to empower the selected scaling champions on the use of BXW App (Android application) and its functionalities, and train them on different digital tools (USSD/IVR/SMS/chart-boot) that are used in agriculture in Rwanda to support farmers to modernize their farming activities.
The training was successfully completed in October 2021
Technical Workshop: Engage Beneficiaries and Decision Makers
A technical workshop was held in Kigali on 24th March 2022 to present the project digital tools to the ministry of agriculture in Rwanda and discuss strengthening of their sustainability.
The workshop aimed to;
- Foster in-depth understanding of the co-developed innovations among stakeholders.
- Review the minimum requirements for tool functionality.
- Map and agree on plans for sustainability and ownership of developed innovations.
Analogue Materials Disseminated Countrywide
The project introduced the non-digital materials, which are easily accessed by both Farmer Promoters and Farmers in various districts of Rwanda. Those materials include booklets, brochures, and posters that portray banana agronomic advices and how to prevent BXW in fields.
International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Rwanda Agriculture, and Animal Resources Development Board (RAB) developed and disseminated the analogue materials across the country to scaling champions (Farmer Promoters), to help them deliver information on banana agronomy with visible and tangible examples as displayed on posters and booklets.
The project team collaborated with Viamo to deliver remote training through Interactive Voice Response (IVR) with a focus on the (BXW) disease and best practices for banana agronomy. The cohort of Scaling Champions (SCs) and Scaling Enablers (SEs)» were invited to the modules. Over a period of three months, a total of 1094 SCs and SEs completed the training with major outcomes indicating successful capacity development for digital extension delivery.
The training was conducted through their mobile phones, using pre-recorded audio lessons. The goal was to reach banana farmers and farmer promoters across the country, covering all the 30 districts, to foster timely surveillance and control of BXW disease in their farm fields (and villages) while providing access to agronomic information for better management of banana farms.
Rwanda Agricultural Show Participation
The team participated in the Rwanda Agricultural Exhibition, organised by the Rwanda Agricultural Board, to showcase the CGIAR contribution to Rwandan agricultural transformation.
845 Service: Banana Agronomy Content Review
Workshop held between RAB, IITA and Viamo, to discuss and review banana agro-content and how to encourage farmers to engage with the service.
WhatsApp-based chatbot launched on 4th Nov, 2022 to fight against Banana Xanthomonas Wilt (BXW) disease in Rwanda.
Acess via: https://bit.ly/3hjRIV5
As part of the ICT4BXW project scaling, RAB and IITA have partnered with Arifu to provide the BXW App through a whatsApp-based chatbot to enable farmers to diagnose and access banana agronomy content.
Annual Planning Meeting
the ICT4BXW project stakeholders held a virtual/physical meeting where they discussed progress & next steps for the digital tools developed to combat banana disease.
Geofield Convening at FAO HQ : Leveraging Earth Observation for Impact Evaluations of Climate-Sensitive Agriculture
ICT4BXW Innovations showcased during Geofield Convening at FAO HQ, Rome (Sept 12th – 14th), and garnered significant interests.
BXW Diagnosis/ Surveillance So Far
The animated map shows the distribution of BXW diagnosis completed since Jan 2021 to August 2023. This is an unprecedented multi-purpose resource that can truly guide action for BXW control, risk assessment, and cropland/banana land monitoring. Sustaining (and scaling) this system will be very valuable for farmers and extension system in Rwanda (and beyond).
End-line Farmer Survey
End-line farmer survey conducted in Sept 2023 to get farmer's/ farmer promoter's perceptions regarding BXW, how the BXW app and other digital tools and also their interaction with extension agents have changed their awareness of and BXW status in their farms
Deploying Best-Fit Control Strategy
Previously, BXW has been being managed via different strategies including complete field clearing (CFU), complete mat uproot (CMU),Single Disease Stem Removal (SDSR) and even prevention. Some of these methods are considered to be ineffective and uneconomical, leading to major losses for the farmers. A survey showed how these methods have been applied in the past; CMU (53%), CFU (16%), SDSR (28%) while 3% did not use any of the methods.
A ground level evidence for BXW control through Single Disease Stem Removal (SDSR) trials has been established. Consistent field studies in all districts of study, show decreasing BXW incidence level over the 5 months with the SDSR method compared to the other control plots.
This video provides more information on the project. A policy brief was also developed and adapted by the government of Rwanda. More information on the methodology, analysis and results can be found in Blomme et al. here.
The Gif below shows study sites locations ( Rubavu, Rulindo, Kayonza and Gisagara districts), for providing ground level evidence for BXW control under Rwandan agro-ecological conditions.
ICT4BXW project is a collaboration between the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Bioversity International, the Rwanda Agricultural and Animal Resources Development Board (RAB) and the Leibniz Institute of Agricultural Development in Transition Economies (IAMO).
This work received financial support from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), commissioned and administered through the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) Fund for International Agricultural Research (FIA).
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