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Know the enemy

Correctly identifying pests and diseases is the first step in safe control

A trainer guides farmers on how to identify pests and diseases based on symptoms.

Hassan Mndiga, Never Zekeya, Zablon Ernest and Gilbert Mushi from WorldVeg Eastern and Southern Africa recently provided practical training to help farmers from 40 Tanzania Horticultural Association (TAHA) groups identify insect pest and diseases and apply integrated pest and disease management strategies in Arumeru and Zanzibar, Tanzania. The training–part of TAHA’s STRONG program–covered field scouting, inspection of live and preserved samples, and pest and disease identification in vegetable fields showing direct damage and symptoms of disease from sucking and damaging pests. Common pests included Tuta absoluta, Bemisia tabaci (whitefly), Aphis gossypii (aphids), Lyriomyza sativa (leafminer) Helicoverpa armigera (African boll worm), Tetranychus urticae (red spider mites), and Drosophila melanogaster (fruit fly).  Common diseases observed included early and late blight, wilts, tomato yellow leaf curl disease, and powdery mildew.

The farmers then learned how to safely handle and store chemical pesticides. Practical demonstrations were given on how to calibrate sprayers and don full protective gear to ensure safety and hygiene. Farmers were also introduced to the use of biological controls for pests and diseases as part of an effective IPM strategy.

The training team carried out a simple review and assessment among selected participants. Several pointed out that prior to this training, many of the farmers were not able to differentiate between insect pests and diseases, fungicides and insecticides, and what was an appropriate safety period between spraying and harvest. Farmers frequently applied the wrong chemicals or used pesticides without abiding by recommended rates of application, resulting in higher production costs. And farmers confessed that they were not wearing protective gear while spaying.

Yet the important messages about safety did get through to the participants. After the training, some of the farmers immediately pooled their financial resources and asked the trainers to help then purchase protective gear.

Story and photos: Hassan Mndiga

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Farmers inspecting tomato crops infested with Tuta absoluta while training in Kivuvulu Village, Arusha region.

Farmers and trainers discuss challenges of accessing biopesticides and traps in Zanzibar.