Farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa are to benefit from a new project that aims to develop an early warning system to help cut crop losses resulting from pests.

The project will forecast pest outbreaks using cutting-edge space infrastructure, Earth observation data, and state of the art modeling techniques.

The project called Pest Risk Information Service (PRISE) is led by the UK-based Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI) with Β£6.38 million (almost US$ 8 million) funding over five years from the UK Space Agency, according to a statement from CABI last month (27 January).

β€œThe PRISE project will reach citizens through mobile, radio, Web and extension services.”Timothy Holmes, CABI

β€œPest outbreaks are becoming increasingly unpredictable due to climate change,” says Holmes, adding that farmers may receive forecasts through existing plant health systems, leveraging on networks in current programmes and projects to trigger appropriate action to deliver at-scale alerts and advice.

The project is intended for Ghana, Kenya, Zambia and three others yet to be decided but likely in Sub-Saharan Africa.

β€œGhana, Kenya and Zambia have already been working with CABI's Plantwise programme to tackle pests and their associated crop losses. The PRISE project will reach citizens through mobile, radio, Web and extension services,” says Holmes. β€˜β€˜The partnerships with governments and responsible organisations will help in its expansion together with strong links forged with them.”

The project aims to contribute to understanding of how extreme weather patterns can affect farmers, and highlight the need for preparations that increase their resilience, Holmes explains.

Misael Kokwe, technical coordinator of the Climate-Smart Agriculture project, UN FAO in Zambia, says that the project is timely because of recent unexpected outbreaks of pests, adding that it officially began in December 2016 but inception workshops will be held in Ghana, Kenya and Zambia in March 2017.

The service will be developed and sustained by building in-country technical capacity and interrelated business plans that engage the private sector, for instance agro-dealers and insurance companies.

Peter Okoth, a consultant agronomist and soil scientist at the Kenya-based Newscape Agro Systems Ltd, says crop losses due to insect pests is a real problem in Africa. β€˜β€˜Pests, apart from directly feeding on the crops and thereby contributing to quantity losses, also create the entry point for fungal diseases and thereby exacerbating the problem,” Okoth explains.

Pests, he notes, could cause crop losses of up to 70 per cent, and the best strategy is to take measures before the onset of the pest attack.

The project could succeed if connected with proven communication technologies that connect directly with the smallholder farmer, says Okoth, adding that early warning of insect pest attacks must also be based on good observation systems that monitor atmospheric conditions such as rainfall and temperature that can be used in prediction modelling.

This article was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.

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