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Economy

Satellite-backed pest alerts cut crop losses to 21 percent

Smallholder farmers
Smallholder farmers who received early satellite-backed pest detection alerts experienced a slight reduction in crop losses, a survey has shown. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Smallholder farmers who received early satellite-backed pest detection alerts experienced a slight reduction in crop losses, a survey has shown.

The survey, conducted during the 2018/19 crop season showed that farmers who received alerts reported 21 percent losses compared to 26 percent by their counterparts.

It was conducted by UK Space Agency that is implementing Pest Risk Information Service (PRISE) technology developed to alert farmers on pests.

The Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) and the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI) also took part in the survey.

“The benefits of PRISE will go beyond individual farmers, and into the broader plant health system, demonstrating how a holistic approach to value chain engagement is important in achieving food security and creating a stronger economy for Kenya,” British deputy high commissioner to Kenya Susie Kitchens said.

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She spoke during the official launch of PRISE which was introduced in Kenya last year and currently operates in Malawi, Rwanda and Zambia.

The launch comes at a time Kenyan farmers are staring at losses due to pest invasion that potentially threatens the country’s food basket.

It comes amid reports that macadamia farmers in Meru County are likely to lose in the next season following an attack on crops by flower-ruining stinkbug that causes flower and fruit failure. \In June, wheat farmers in Narok experienced invasion of quelea birds that traditionally migrate from Lake Natron in Tanzania, exposing farmers to losses running into millions of shillings.

In Western Kenya, farmers contracted by the East African Breweries Limited to grow sorghum for its recently upgrade Kisumu keg plant have recorded losses after weaver birds invaded their farms.

PRISE works by using satellite data to track the crop pests before sending text message alerts to local plant clinics that pass on the information to farmers.

“Extension workers will be better informed about pest threats so as to warn farmers early,” said Ms Kitchens.

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