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International IPM Program a Success for Tomato Producers in Africa

Ugandan farmer Matthew Ssekabembe and his wife are participating in the IPM Collaborative Research Support Program.The IPM technologies, which increase quantity and quality of the product while reducing pesticide applications by half, has been a marketing boon for farmers who, in some cases, collect a premium price 2.5 times higher than for a product grown using traditional farming practices.

"Whatever I have today is a result of using improved tomato growing methods that I learned from the IPM Collaborative Research Support Program," said Ugandan farmer Matthew Ssekabembe. "During harvesting, my neighbors used to come to my garden for tomato rejects, or unmarketable fruits, but since I started using the IPM CRSP technology package, I no longer have tomato rejects."

The IPM CRSP program in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania is a four-year $800,000 initiative funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development to reduce the overuse of pesticides and improve the productivity of locally marketed horticultural crops including the tomato.  The project is managed by Ohio State University’s Office of International Programs in Agriculture.

"Food insecurity is a lack of food or the income to purchase that food, and it's always been the cornerstone of development issues in Africa. Agricultural production has not kept pace with population growth," said Mark Erbaugh, principal investigator and interim director of the Office of International Programs in Agriculture. "Uganda is an agrarian nation with more than 80 percent of its labor force engaged in small-farm agriculture. To get the economy moving, we have to create more income. That not only means growing more food, but increasing productivity and incomes for local farmers. "

Through research conducted on the farms of small-scale growers in Uganda, the IPM CRSP research team, composed of scientists from Makerere University, Ohio State University and Virginia Tech, has developed IPM technologies to control pests and diseases that attack tomatoes. This package consists of using a new tomato variety that is resistant to bacterial wilt; using locally available materials to provide an organic mulch; staking and tying tomatoes rather than letting them spread on the ground; and a system for producing seedlings that are disease-free. This system allows farmers in Uganda to cut their pesticide applications in half, reducing their production costs and adverse impacts on human health.    

"Most farmers were unwilling to adopt the IPM CRSP reduced pesticide application recommendation because of fears of losing their tomato crop entirely to insect pests and diseases," said Erbaugh.

Researchers have been leading efforts to disseminate information and encourage adoption of the IPM practices through farmer field schools. At a recent field school graduation ceremony, about 25 farmers were recognized for their willingness to try the new technology. Ssekabembe was one of the farmers who participated in the field school.

Ohio State University Board of Trustees member Wally O'Dell recently took a trip to Uganda to see first-hand the benefits the international IPM program has afforded the local farmers."When I reduced my pesticide applications from 24 times per season to 12, it resulted in a reduction of spray costs," he said. "We used to spray three times per week during the rainy season and immediately before harvest because the vendors at the market believed that fungicide residues extended the shelf life of the tomato fruits and were reluctant to buy tomatoes from farmers for resale without a visible residue on the fruits.  Vendors have since learned that the larger firmer tomatoes produced with the IPM CRSP technology package have a longer shelf life without fungicide residues making pre-harvest pesticide application unnecessary."

Ssekabembe, who farms about two acres and has an annual farm income of $380 per year, mentioned that the extra income earned from producing a better product has improved the quality of life for him, his wife and five children.

Erbaugh said that such university programs continue Ohio State’s four decades of institution-building, degree-training and research collaboration with East Africa, helping to sustain vital international agriculture and rural development partnerships.

"University programs like this one, which strengthen national capacity to generate scientific and technological responses to development constraints, are viewed as important," said Erbaugh. "The project has strengthened Ohio State University’s presence in this region and its ability to work with national and international entities to address these development constraints."

Erbaugh said that such programs also continue to emphasize the importance of agriculture's ties to economic development.

"Development assistance, in which food security is a part, has always been part of foreign policy, but there was a period of time in the 1990s when agriculture was left off of the agenda. Agriculture has now returned to the forefront of the development agenda in an attempt to solve the food crisis in developing countries," said Erbaugh. "If we are going to make progress in developing countries, you have to remember their agrarian roots. You can’t move forward in economic development if you don't increase their food productivity and marketing, and develop ways to sustain that."

The Office of International Programs in Agriculture is located on Ohio State's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences campus. The work conducted by faculty and staff supported by the Office of International Programs in Agriculture aligns with the college's five-year strategic plan in which research supporting global food production and security is considered a high priority.