COVID-19 highlights the importance of farmers’ associations
Uganda is one of the few countries that has not reported any deaths from COVID-19. However, there are movement restrictions and stay-at-home orders in place. What do this pandemic and subsequent control measures mean for banana farmers in the country? We talked to Brigitte Uwimana, a molecular banana breeder based at IITA Uganda. Below are excerpts of the interview:
The rainy season has started, which means farmers are busy in their fields. Should they worry about COVID-19, or is it for people in urban areas?
COVID-19 should be a concern for everyone. Farmers should not necessarily “be worried”, but they should take all the precautions to keep themselves, their families, and their neighbors safe.
If yes, what precautionary measures should farmers take to keep themselves and their families safe – both in the farms and elsewhere?
All the measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are valid
both in urban and rural areas. The use of sanitizers might not be affordable or available for rural areas. Still,
farmers should wash hands properly with soap and water, even in the fields, especially for those who hire labor from different homes. Farmers should also take care to practice physical distancing by assigning work in a way that keeps the workers away from each other, and everyone should wear a mask. Field tools shared among workers should be washed with soap before sharing them. Banana farmers in Uganda already know about sterilizing tools; they have been doing this during the fight against bacterial wilt.
Countrywide lockdowns have restricted the movement of both people and goods. How can banana farmers cope with limited access to inputs such as fertilizer, manure, or mulch?
Access to towns to buy farm input is indeed limited, but times like these show the importance of farmer associations. The associations can purchase inputs in bulk and then distribute them according to individual needs and means. Given the current circumstances, farmers cannot approach sellers individually, but they can leverage the benefits of economies of scale.
What improved varieties or agronomic practices from IITA research can farmers adopt to improve yield, especially during this pandemic?
IITA does not have the mandate to release varieties; we work with the National Agricultural Research Systems in our host countries. In Uganda, the Banana Research Program of the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) based in Kawanda has released seven improved varieties that are resistant or tolerant to the major pests and diseases and are as tasty as the landraces. These are known as ‘KABANA6H’ (known as ‘Kiwaangazi’ by farmers), ‘KABANA7H’, ‘NAROBan1’, ‘NAROBan2’, ‘NAROBan3’, ‘NAROBan4’, and ‘NAROBan5’. More improved varieties are in the pipeline and will be released soon.