A species of moth called Tuta absoluta is by far the most destructive pest attacking tomatoes and other vegetables in Africa. If undetected and not addressed in time, it can cause yield loss of between 50 and 100 percent, seriously affecting the livelihood of millions of farmers. Because this pest can easily develop resistance to crop protection products, it is fundamentally important that growers know how to manage their crops to prevent infestations, as well as how to treat the affected crops in the best possible way. However, like in many other countries in Southern Africa, poor infrastructures and limited capacity make it difficult to reach all growers in time with the technologies and training they need to grow healthy crops.
Remmy Mainga is a technical sales manager in the Lusaka area, helping emerging growers move from small scale, subsistence farming to larger commercial operations. He spends his time making sure growers have access to the best varieties and technologies to grow their crops, and visits them to provide first hand advice and training on good agricultural practices, so that the growers may learn on how to maximize their return on investment, get a healthy crop at harvest and anticipate issues with pest and disease, as well as knowing how to address them when they do come around.
Remmy quickly realized that given the size of his territory, the poor infrastructures and the number of growers in need of support, he was not able to adequately reach them all, providing the same level of support. He also realized that growers may benefit from sharing issues, experiences and solutions between each other, something that was rarely happening beyond local communities. That is when he decided to create “Farmers Corner”, a simple mobile based group chat, connecting technical experts like himself with growers across Zambia.
In a simple and cost effective way, “Farmers Corner” allowed growers to share, in real time, photos or videos of their crops and to receive quick advice and tailored solutions from technical experts like Remmy. The platform also quickly attracted local farmers associations as well as governmental institutions involved in agriculture as a perfect space to reach a large number of growers.
When Tuta absoluta broke out in Zambia, heavily affecting local growers, “Farmers Corner” was the first platform to begin sensitizing growers on the issue, providing quick and easy information on integrated pest management. In that instance, Syngenta, the Government and farmers’ associations joined forced to create a Tuta absoluta task force which used “Farmers Corner” as the main vehicle to reach growers with alerts, information and advice.
“Farmers Corner” has now grown from 10 to over 500 members, including agricultural influencers and members of the Zambian Government. In fact, it has grown so much that Remmy recently launched “Farmers Corner 2” to allow for more growers to join and more issues to be addressed. Now its topics range far wider than Tuta absoluta.
Since launching the group Remmy says: “I am proud to see a lot of positive developments including a better understanding and acceptance of modern technologies, improved yields and quality of major crops and a more professional attitude towards crop production. “Farmers Corner” is also increasingly encouraging participating growers to diversity their production as they learn of new and innovative ways to grow different crops, and the benefits they may obtain from producing and selling them. This is very positive for food security and agricultural development in my country.”
Remmy is a food hero because in front of the very real challenge of reaching a large number of growers, he found a practical and simple solution to expand the reach and diversity of agricultural training and advice, linking together many different players all equally engaged in unlocking the potential of Zambian emerging growers.
Remmy Mainga is a technical sales manager in the Lusaka, Zambia. He helps emerging growers move from small scale, subsistence farming to larger commercial operations.