Biopesticides and Biocontrols

Mapping of weather and climate services for crop pest and disease management in Kenya comes under spotlight

01 March 2023, Kenya: The mapping of weather and climate services and digital tools for crop pest and disease management in Kenya has come under the spotlight as part of a stakeholder consultation involving held at CABI’s regional centre for Africa in Nairobi.

CABI delivered the workshop in collaboration with the Community Network for Vector-Borne Plant Viruses (CONNECTED, University of Bristol, UK) project which aims to better understand weather and climate services, information and tools, to tackle crop pests and diseases in Kenya.

During the event, held at the Sarvoa Panafric Hotel in Nairobi, plant health extension and quarantine officers worked together to identify gaps in the current provision that new information tools might be able to fill.

This included considering short-term (weather/seasonal) perspectives alongside longer-term (climate change and future climate projections) time scales to understand risks, drivers and needs.

Florence Chege, Project Scientist at CABI based at its Nairobi, Kenya, office, told the workshop participants that weather and climate is influencing the distribution of diseases borne by vectors and outbreak of pests in a vast range of crops.

Up to 40% of the world’s food supply is already lost to pests. There is a need to adopt climate-smart pest management approach that considers climate projections alongside pest surveillance, detection, management and advice to farmers.

Furthermore, according to the International Livestock Research Institute, many crops foundational to African diets, such as wheat, maize, sorghum and millet, will struggle to survive rising temperatures brought about by climate change.

Under warming of 2℃, crop yields across sub-Saharan Africa will decrease by 10 per cent. Warming beyond the 2℃ mark will cause crops yields to fall by up to 20 per cent. If warming is allowed to hit the 3℃ mark, all present-day cropping areas for maize, millet and sorghum in Africa will become unsuitable.

The first session of the workshop focussed on crops, pests, and diseases of concern and how they are impacted by aspects of weather/climate.

This included a focus on pests such as the fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) which, CABI scientists revealed in a paper published in CABI Agriculture and Bioscience, causes annual yield losses in Africa of around USD $9.4 billion.

Moreover, research led by CABI and published in the Journal of Economic Entomology, states that the pest could establish itself in the southern parts of Europe including southern Spain, Italy, Portugal or Greece – due to the changing climate.

Other pests highlighted included the whitefly on cassava as well as cassava brown streak disease (CBSD) which can cause the total loss of crops.

The second session of the day explored the seasonal climate outlook for Kenya and accessible services provided by the Kenya Meteorological Department (KMD). The final session sought to learn from local practices and posed the question as to whether or not farming communities are already managing weather/climate impacts on crop health and production.

Henry Mibei, CABI’s Manager, Digital Development, said, “The need to map Africa’s weather and climates services and digital tools is very acute in need when you consider the growing need to feed a population expected to double by 2050 – eventually climbing to over 4 billion by the end of the century.

“This is particularly so when you consider the impact of crop pests and diseases – which severely impinge upon the continent’s ability to grow enough healthy crops amid rising political, society and climatic concerns.

“We need to utilize all the ‘weapons’ in our arsenal to meet this challenge while working closely in partnership to build the capacity of our diagnostic and monitoring systems and that includes those pertaining to weather and climate.”

Recent CABI-led projects where data has helped farmers mitigate crop pests and diseases using weather-related information has included the Pest Risk Information Service (PRISE).

PRISE predicts the timing of the most effective and efficient control against pests using a novel combination of earth observation technology, real-time field observations and plant-pest lifecycle modelling to deliver a science-based service.

The project delivered pest alerts in Kenya, Ghana, Zambia and Malawi to over 1.8 million farmers since it began in 2017. During the 2019/2020 short rains season in Kenya, PRISE model outputs were integrated in the MoA-INFO SMS service.

At the end of this season, 59% of farmers who received the service changed their practices based on PRISE recommendations for fall armyworm, with the most common outcomes being a reduced population of the pest and an increase in maize harvest.

CONNECTED is a multidisciplinary network of over 1,500 members in 87 countries and builds research to tackle crop diseases spread by insects.

Its mission is to train and network to equip its global group of researchers to lead the fight against insect-spread plant viruses that devastate crops, particularly in Sub-Saharan African countries.

It engages policymakers, stakeholders and end-users to raise awareness and enable evidence-based decision-making for the benefit of those who need it most.

Also Read: Concern over Wheat production due to the ongoing heatwave

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