COVID-19: Rural Folks Can’t Afford Sanitisers in Uganda, IITA’s Expert Says

Brigitte Uwimana, IITA molecular banana breeder in Uganda.

A molecular banana breeder with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Uganda, Brigitte Uwimana, says the use of sanitisers is not affordable for rural areas of the country.

Uganda is, however, one of the few countries that have not reported any deaths from COVID-19. That notwithstanding, there are movement restrictions and stay-at-home orders in place. 

She was speaking in an interview with IITA’s media unit.

Brigitte Uwimana, a Rwandan national, was formerly a Research Associate at Wageningen University and Research Centre in the Netherlands. Before this, she had worked as a Research Assistant at the Rwanda Agricultural Research Institute (2005-2011) and a Focal Point Technician at ISAR/USAID/ CIAT/Agricultural Technology Development and Transfer Project, Eastern Zone, Rwanda (April– October 2003). 

Banana field.

Her research experience focused on applying molecular and statistical tools to support breeding in plants. She obtained her PhD in Plant Breeding (2011) and MSc in Plant Sciences (2007) with specialization in Plant Breeding and Genetic Resources from Wageningen University, the Netherlands. 

She received her BSc degree in Agriculture from Allahabad Agricultural Institute-Deemed University, Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, India in 2002.

Should farmers 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 neighbours safe.

Are there precautionary measures for farmers?

All the measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are valid both in urban and rural areas. The use of sanitisers 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 labour 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 sterilising tools; they have been doing this during the fight against bacterial wilt.

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, 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. 


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