Combating banana disease through digital innovation

The goal of this project is to use citizen science and ICT innovation to develop efficient, (cost-)effective and scalable tools for advancing the prevention and control of Banana Xanthomonas Wilt (BXW) in East and Central Africa. Citizen science implies that normal farmers, extension providers or other people contribute to collecting, analysing, or interpreting data used for scientific purposes.

A snapshot of the project

Banana is a staple crop that is threatened by Banana Xanthomonas Wilt (BXW). BXW is a bacterial disease which commonly spreads from plantation to plantation by insects and infected cutting tools and has spread throughout the East and Central African region, resulting in production losses both at farm and national level. Monitoring the status and spread of the disease has been a major challenge for the national extension system, yet effective surveillance system is critical to develop suitable interventions and policies to mitigate disease spread and damage. Therefore, there is a lack of effective or coherent control approach to combat further threat of BXW to food security at the national level.

Under the auspices of the ICT4BXW project, farmer promoters and smallholder banana farmers are empowered with a co-developed smartphone app (BXW app) to provide data on BXW occurrence and access proven information for control or prevention. In phase-II of the project, services for normal basic phones are being added (e.g., IVR, SMS, USSD) to serve broader user base. Using digital information and communication technologies (ICT), the project engages with and builds on the expertise of farmer promoters, farmers, and government agents in Rwanda to provide advice on banana agronomic practices in general and, more specifically, best control measure for BXW. Through the project, data on BXW disease occurrence and spread is collected and fed into an early warning system that can enable the government of Rwanda to target efforts for prevention and control of the disease. The implementation of the second phase of the project is led by IITA and the Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resources Development Board (RAB), in close collaboration with private sector partners, with the aim to disseminate BXW App and derivative tools nationally (reaching up to 252,000 farmers), and to diversify the reach of the multiple functions that the tools convey, in digital and non-digital forms.

The results of the project

The expected outcome is to mitigate the threat of BXW disease and support the livelihoods of banana farmers. By providing timely and accurate insight about BXW disease incidence and severity at country level and improving access to information about the disease among various stakeholders, the project is expected to enhance effectiveness and efficiency of extension service delivery for decision-support among within banana farming system of Rwanda.

The major goal for phase-I was achieved with the co-development of BXW-App, and subsequent piloting with 2,500 farmers and farmer promoters across 8 districts in Rwanda. The phase-II is designed to scale in the tools nationwide, covering 25 districts and reaching 252,000 farmers.

Key scientific and development outputs and outcomes of phase I (next to scientific publications) include:

General outputs and outcomes

  • A baseline survey of 690 smallholder banana farmers and 138 farmer promoters.
  • A tailored co-creation approach (named participatory and inclusive tool development process) that included activities such as a RAAIS (Rapid Appraisal of Agricultural Innovation Systems) workshop (Schut et al. 2015), co-creation workshops (in which a sample of farmer promoters and sector agronomists, and representatives from the government and research participated), and a field-pilot period.
  • Development of an ex-ante framework to analyse the user readiness of anticipated users of digital technologies. This framework was tested using data from the baseline survey.
  • Social network analysis and large-scale mapping of banana plantations in selected villages in Kayonza district.

Citizen science focused outputs and outcomes

  • 16 farmer promoters were involved in designing the approach and application for crowd-sourcing data on BXW incidence and severity
  • 69 farmer promoters were involved in testing the approach and application for crowd-sourcing data on BXW incidence and severity
  • Crowd-sourced data about BXW incidence and severity on smallholder banana farms based on reports from farmer promoters across 8 districts in Rwanda
  • Crowd-sourcing of 2500+ basic farmer profiles and plots on which banana is produced across 8 districts in Rwanda

Key scientific and development outputs and outcomes that are planned for phase II include:

General outputs and outcomes

  • A scaling readiness workshop (already completed) aimed at evaluating scaling plans and strategies relative to contextual realities from phase I.
  • Large-scale baseline survey via Viamo platform with some questions integrated specifically for ICT4BXW (reaching 12.000 farmers).
  • Linking and integration of diverse initiatives and tools for BXW management: ABC toolkit, BXW-App, Interactive chatbot, and Remote Training for digital extension.
  • Training of 140 scaling champions (farmer promoters) from 25 districts on the use of digital tools, management of banana crop, and diagnosis and management of BXW disease. Each scaling champion is expected to train another 7-9 scaling enablers who are supporting peer farmers at the village level to access and apply the tools.