Virginia Tech® home

IPM Innovation Lab and iDE maintain, increase plant protection services during global pandemic

IPM Nepal
To ensure that farmers continue to have access to crop pest and disease information amidst the COVID-19 stay-at-home order in Nepal, the IPM Innovation Lab is enhancing the quality and quantity of communication through a bulk text messaging system.

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, traveling or gathering in large groups has been prohibited, delaying many of the USAID IPM Innovation Lab’s planned farmer trainings, field work, and laboratory experiments. Nevertheless, the IPM Innovation Lab is coordinating with their partners at iDE to use this time as an opportunity to adapt and improve the ways in which integrated pest management (IPM) information is communicated and delivered to farmers.

Feed the Future Nepal Integrated Pest Management (FTFNIPM) is the IPM Innovation Lab’s newest project. The project prioritizes the transfer and adoption of IPM, as well as mitigating the spread of fall armyworm, a devastating invasive pest. To ensure that small-scale farmers do not lose valuable access to information on curbing pests and diseases amidst the COVID-19 crisis, FTFNIPM is scaling up a previously-adopted text messaging program and increasing communication efforts through social media in general.

The text messaging program, implemented in a different IPM Innovation Lab project by iDE, sent intermittent bulk text messages to farmers. The messages sounded alerts of emerging crop pests and diseases, and listed the contacts of IPM product suppliers, community business facilitators, and plant doctors, who could help address plant problems.

This effort increased IPM product sales in some communities by over 100 percent and significantly increased crop yields. While the stay-at-home order persists in Nepal, FTFNIPM is implementing the same program, but increasing the quantity and quality of the text messages. Now weekly messages contain detailed pest and disease management information farmers would not ordinarily receive outside of trainings or extension services.

For example, the messages include descriptions of how farmers can identify the fall armyworm pest at different stages of its life cycle, as well as step-by-step directions for sustainably curbing its spread, such as intercropping leguminous crops with maize crops.Messages continue to be written in the local Nepali language and do not require Internet access.

FTFNIPM is also coordinating with other programs in Nepal such as USAID-funded KISAN II to scale up the number of farmers receiving information. To further serve farmers in Nepal amidst the stay-at-home order, FTFNIPM has also:

  • Requested that farmers send descriptions of crop damage to FTFNIPM crop experts, including photographs or videos of plant symptoms
  • Created a Facebook page dedicated to fall armyworm resilience, where farmers can regularly access up-to-date information about the pest
  • Offered contacts of local crop experts who farmers can communicate with if in doubt of fall armyworm presence in their fields
Fall armyworm
The fall armyworm is an invasive pest in Asia and Africa, where it has caused billions of dollars in crop losses.

While restrictions vary by country, many farmers around the world are facing unexpected limitations to accessing the tools, technologies, businesses, and information they might ordinarily turn to during planting season.

“While much of the world has to halt during this pandemic, small-scale farmers must continue working in their fields – maintaining social distance – in order to serve their families and communities,” said Lalit Sah, a coordinator with iDE. “Small-scale farmers already face a number of constraints, so we want to ensure as much support as possible.”

FTFNIPM and iDE are hosting virtual meetings with technical experts and a range of government stakeholders from federal and provincial levels to discuss fall armyworm updates and a possible action plan for curbing the pest’s spread amidst the COVID-19 lockdown.