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Virginia Tech-led training creates greater crop yields in East Africa

July 28, 2016

Ohio State researcher, right, with professor and farmer in Uganda, doing work related to a 10-year integrated-pest-management study

Ohio State researcher, right, with professor, farmer and children in Uganda
Ohio State researcher Mark Erbaugh, right, and Geoffrey Tusiime, second from right, a plant pathologist at Makerere University, conduct a survey on knowledge and awareness of diseases in tomato and passion fruit with a farmer in Mukono County, Uganda.

Scientists under USAID's Feed the Future program, making more than 60 visits to East Africa over 10 years, helped drastically reduce the use of toxic pesticides in three countries. New practices led to greater yields in crops, including tomatoes and coffee.

The project provided training through dozens of workshops and programs to spread integrated-pest-management practices in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, with techniques targeted to Extension agents, farmers, and agrochemical dealers. The program reached more than 14,000 farmers in its final five-year phase from 2010 to 2015, more than a third of them female.

Among the techniques:

  • planting a new tomato variety that is resistant to bacterial wilt
  • utilizing locally available plant materials as organic mulch for conserving moisture and reducing spread of soil-borne diseases
  • staking and tying tomatoes rather than letting them spread on the ground
  • adapting new systems for producing disease-free seedlings

The region's scientists were trained on pest problems, such as the tomato leafminer — Tuta absoluta — responsible for the recent destruction of 80 percent of Nigeria's tomato crop. The decade-long program also taught the East African scientists to identify and manage coffee wilt and banana wilt using natural means.

In terms of tomato production, yields increased from 54 percent to 268 percent depending on the tactic adopted, according to the program's final report, authored by the principal investigator, Mark Erbaugh, director of International Programs in Agriculture at Ohio State.

The new practices are not always an easy sell because many farmers fear losing their crops entirely to insect pests and diseases, Erbaugh said. However, the 10-year project documented that impacts were overwhelmingly positive.

Researchers at Virginia Tech and Ohio State estimate the monetary rates of return at, minimally, $1 million over the 10 years, covering all crops, with as much as $526 million projected in greater yields if integrated-pest-management are sustained through 2030.

"Food insecurity is a lack of food or the income to purchase that food, and it's always been the cornerstone of development issues in Africa," Erbaugh said in an Ohio State news story chronicling the project in its earlier phases.

Muni Muniappan, who directs the Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab at Virginia Tech, said, "We believe that integrated-pest-management techniques could be crucial to halting crop losses worldwide, a vital step as climate change continues to wreak havoc on not only small-scale farmers but also large agricultural concerns."

The Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab is part of the Office of International Research, Education, and Development under Outreach and International Affairs at Virginia Tech. The lab involves 11 U.S. universities and dozens of national and international institutions disseminating tactics farmers can use in lieu of toxic pesticides.

The program is one of 24 Feed the Future Innovation Labs, a portfolio of collaborative research projects led by U.S. universities that seek to advance novel solutions to reduce global hunger, poverty, and undernutrition in 19 Feed the Future priority countries.

In addition to Virginia Tech and Ohio State, institutions involved in the project included Makerere University’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, the Ugandan National Agricultural Research Organization, the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization, and Sokoine University of Agriculture.  Agencies involved in coffee research were also part of the project, including the Coffee Research Center of Uganda and the Tanzania Coffee Research Institute.

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