Special Reports

The Power of Mobile: Saving Uganda's Banana Crop

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there http://colosseo.com.br/wp-content/plugins/sitepress-multilingual-cms/menu/wpml-translation-selector.class.php geneva;”>Through my work on the Uganda Agricultural Technology and Agribusiness Advisory (ATAAS) project, I learned that a devastating Banana Bacterial Wilt (BBW) infection has been spreading through the country, killing banana plantations and threatening food security.

The government has created a BBW committee led by the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF) to raise awareness of the disease and publicize new prevention methods. Rasit Pertev, a World Bank Senior Agriculture specialist and TTL for the ATAAS project, is a member of this committee.

Coming from the ICT sector, I am aware of the massive potential of ICT and especially mobile. I am a strong believer that we at the Bank should try to harness the innovation, rather than funding “re-invention of the wheel.” So I started to think about how we could harness ICT innovation to help Uganda tackle the BBW problem.

Earlier this year, my two ICT colleagues, Merrick Schaefer and Joshua Goldstein, identified a number of innovative ICT solutions that have been developed and implemented by UNICEF’s Technology for Development (T4D) team. One of them is Ureport (www.ureport.ug), which is a network of 190,000+ volunteers across Uganda who use mobile technology to report on various issues that are of interest to UNICEF and other development partners.

Next step: I presented the opportunity to Rasit and it was decided to test the applicability of Ureport for visualization of the BBW epidemic and dissemination of information to affected communities. It took some good will and persistance because this had never been tried before, but after consultations between UNICEF, MAAIF, the World Bank, and the Ureport steering committee, we got the green light. In just a few days we were able to leverage Ureport for:

Initial awareness raising


Visualization of the epidemic


Dissemination of symptoms description


Dissemination of treatment options


This is the campaign we rolled out:

March 26: SMS to almost 190,000 Ureporters: “Do you know any farmers whose banana plantations or crops are infected with banana bacterial wilt disease? YES or NO.”

In 24 hours we received over 35,000 responses, mapping the spread of the BBW disease across Uganda. As shown below, almost 55% of U-reporters reported knowing farmers who had crops infected with BBW (indicated in green) and 38% said they did not (indicated in red):



March 27: SMS to all respondents, regardless of whether they answered YES or NO to the first poll: “Banana Bacterial Wilt is a banana disease spread through insects and cutting tools that causes rotting of bunches and drying of male buds (mpumumpu).”

March 28: SMS to all respondents: “55% of U-reporters know plantations with Banana Bacteria Wilt. It attacks matooke, ripens bunches prematurely, dries male bud. SMS BBW for more info”.

17,000 Ureporters requested additional details. All got this response: “To control, avoid moving infected plant, break male bud, cut infected plants, clean cutting tools using jik or flame. (1 JIK: in 5 water). Tell someone you know.”

Over the five days of BBW engagement, more than 52,000 U-reporters either provided information, requested information or both via SMS. The 19% response rate to the first poll was the fifth highest response to a poll in the two-year, 200-question history of Ureport. Through this exercise, we were able to map the disease and make almost 190,000 people aware of what BBW does and what action they could take. And this only cost 3 US cents per person.

What Ureport made possible was not only information dissemination or data gathering, but a nationwide conversation focused on a critical issue for Ugandans. All it took was the trust of a TTL, passion to save bananas to feed the kids, commitment to demonstrate the power of mobile, and ability to leverage existing innovation.

This is still a pilot, but I can’t contain my excitement about Ureport’s potential for other sectors in Uganda. We are now discussing with education and urban development colleagues how we can leverage Ureport and other innovative solutions developed by UNICEF’s T4D to increase the impact of the World Bank operations in Uganda.

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