Farmers in Uganda can now quickly identify and report the presence of the fall armyworm using a mobile application system that has been jointly launched by the Ministry of Agriculture and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation.
The Fall Armyworm Monitoring and Early Warning System (Famews) is already in use in several African countries.
The app works in a way that once a farmer checks their crops for infestation, they can upload the required data on the app.
The data is then validated by national fall armyworm focal points and transferred to a global web-based platform.
On the platform, it is analysed to give real-time feedback on the level of infestation, and the measures that need to be taken to control the spread of the invasive pest that originated in the Americas but since 2016 has devastated crops in Africa.
Since 2016, invasions of the worm have devastated crops, particularly maize, and threatened the food security of millions of people on the continent.
The mobile app will initially be used under a pilot programme in 15 districts.
It comes at a time when farmers are preparing their land for the second planting season that starts at the end of this month.
Experts say early detection is key to tracking and responding to the large-scale threat posed by the worm.
Stephen Byantwale, the Commissioner for Crop Protection at the Ministry of Agriculture, said that although Uganda registered a bumper maize harvest during the first season of this year, more than half of the maize crop was lost to the fall armyworm.
According to statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture and FAO, by mid-2017, the worm was present in all districts of Uganda, causing 15 to 75 per cent of yield loss.
It further shows that an estimated 450,000 tonnes of maize, equivalent to $192 million was lost during the first cropping season of 2017, directly affecting 3.6 million people, or nine per cent of the population.
“There is a need to continue monitoring because the residual populations of the fall armyworm have the potential to cause more outbreaks” Mr Byantwale said.
Charles Owach, the assistant FAO country representative for Uganda in charge of programmes, said emphasis should be directed towards setting up community-based systems for monitoring, early detection and the management of the pest.
“The major action required for effective and sustainable management of the fall armyworm is at the community level.
“With the community monitoring system, farmers can make informed decisions for early action,” he said.
After the pilot project, Mr Byantwale said government plans to roll out the app to all districts.
The pilot districts are Mukono, Iganga, Bulamburi, Nakapiripirit, Oyam, Adjumani, Kiryandong and Kibaale. Others are Kasese, Lira, Kayunga, Soroti, Busia, Masindi and Luwero.