App to help growers reduce agrochemical use

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INTERNATIONAL Potato Center (CIP) plant pathologist Willmer Perez and colleagues have developed an easy-to-use decision support tool to help farmers optimise their fungicide use. 

The tool, which is customized for each country, uses information on the late blight-susceptibility levels of local varieties, the effectiveness of locally-available fungicides, and local weather data to provide farmers with advice on when to apply agrochemicals.

Perez said small-scale farmers tend to apply more fungicides than needed, more often than needed. He noted that in areas with high late-blight pressure, farmers may spray fungicides on their crop as many as 25 times during the four-month growing season, which represents a significant cost for resource-poor families. He added that many farmers also mix several fungicides together, increasing the health and environmental risks.

“In the majority of developing countries, farmers don’t use protective equipment, so there are high levels of intoxication and chronic health problems that appear after using these agrochemicals for 15 or 20 years,” Perez said.

After years of training potato farmers in approaches for decreasing fungicide use, Perez and colleagues designed a decision support tool that consists of sets of cardboard discs in concentric circles, which farmers align based on the variety they are growing, recent weather conditions and the last time they applied fungicides to determine when they should apply that agrochemical again.

After testing this low-tech tool with farmers in Ecuador and Peru, to validate its effectiveness, the team designed a mobile phone app based on it. The original phone app can be used in areas without mobile phone coverage, but a new version accesses weather forecast data on the internet to inform its recommendations. Nevetheless, both versions can work offline, so farmers can use them regardless of whether they have cellphone access.

The decision support tool has been approved for use in Ecuador and Peru, where local farmer organizations have adopted it, and is being evaluated by national programs in Panama, Colombia and Bolivia. He explained that the ultimate goal is to adapt the app to conditions in Africa and Asia, translate it into multiple languages, and take it to scale.

Source and photo: CIP