Susie Kitchens, Deputy High Commissioner, speaking at the launch

Susie Kitchens, Deputy High Commissioner, speaking at the launch. Photo credit: David Onyango, CABI

10 October 2019 – Space-age technology to provide farmers with an early warning of pest outbreaks, which could devastate their crops and livelihoods, is paying dividends by increasing yields and reducing losses for maize farmers in Kenya.

Members of the CABI-led consortium, funded by the UK Space Agency and the Global Challenges Research Fund with co-funding from the CABI-led Plantwise programme, have updated officials in Kenya on the progress of the Pest Risk Information Service (PRISE) developed to alert farmers to pests including the maize stalk borer.

During an official launch of PRISE this week at the Deputy British High Commissioner’s residence in Nairobi, CABI told a delegation, which included officials from the UK government, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Kenya, that maize farmers who received pest alerts are expected to experience fewer losses than those who had not partaken in the service.

Research is currently being conducted to assess exactly what impact PRISE is having alongside other Integrated Pest Management strategies employed by farmers.

PRISE, which was implemented in Kenya in 2018 and is currently also operating in Malawi, Rwanda and Zambia, works by using satellite data to track the crop pests before sending text message alerts to Plantwise plant doctors. They then either pass on the information to farmers in the field or through the network of plant clinics.

Farmer attending Plantwise clinic in Kenya with three plant doctors

Farmer attending Platnwise clinic in Kenya

The plant doctors then help the farmers identify the pest before offering a range of options to manage the impact on their crop – ultimately helping them to grow more and lose less to pests and diseases, thereby increasing their yields and livelihoods.

Farmers, who have access to a mobile phone, can also receive text alerts themselves directly and can then consult a plant doctor if necessary.

Charlotte Day, CABI’s project manager for PRISE, said, “An estimated 40 percent of the world’s crops are lost to pests, impacting smallholder farmers’ ability to feed their families, limiting international trade and food supply chains and hampering the pursuit of Sustainable Development Goals ‘Zero Hunger’ and ‘No Poverty.’

“It is important that we harness the very latest technology to try and be one step ahead of the pests and equip all extension workers, not just Plantwise plant doctors, with the information they need to provide timely advice to farmers.”

A survey of plant doctors and farmers in the counties of Kenya during the 2018/19 cropping season showed that farmers who did not receive alerts experienced higher maize production losses with an average of 26 percent, compared to those who did receive alerts where their losses were 21 percent.

The partners were advised that while the pest alerts are helping to reduce crop losses for maize farmers they still need further help in distinguishing between various pests – for example the Fall armyworm and the maize stalk borer.

Recommendations, in a report highlighted at the official launch, also included ‘tapping into’ existing weather alert systems that farmers already receive on their phones as well as incorporating the pest alerts into public meetings and farmer field days.

Deputy High Commissioner Susie Kitchens said, “The benefits of PRISE will go beyond individual farmers, and into the broader plant health system, demonstrating how a holistic approach to value chain engagement is important in achieving food security and creating a stronger economy for Kenya.

“Extension workers will be better informed about pest threats, and able to warn farmers early. Input suppliers will be able to predict demand, and get the right products where they are most needed. And insurance and financing companies will have a more accurate picture of the levels of risk facing their clients.”

Other partners, Kings College London, are conducting Land Surface Temperature trials to validate the satellite earth observation data that PRISE obtains and calibrate the environment parameters within the pest risk models. This work is currently taking place in Kenya with Zambia soon to commence.

Notes to editors

Media enquiries: David Onyango, Communications Specialist, T:+254 (0)20 2271000/20 E:

Find out more about PRISE, including the full list of partners, from the dedicated project page.

About CABI

CABI is an international not-for-profit organization that improves people’s lives by providing information and applying scientific expertise to solve problems in agriculture and the environment.

Through knowledge sharing and science, CABI helps address issues of global concern such as improving global food security and safeguarding the environment. We do this by helping farmers grow more and lose less of what they produce, combating threats to agriculture and the environment from pests and diseases, protecting biodiversity from invasive species, and improving access to agricultural and environmental scientific knowledge. Our 49 member countries guide and influence our core areas of work, which include development and research projects, scientific publishing and microbial services.

About the UK Space Agency’s IPP

The UK Space Agency’s International Partnership Programme (IPP) is a five-year, £152 million programme designed to partner UK space expertise with overseas governments and organisations. It is funded from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).

The Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF)  is a £1.5 billion fund which forms part of the UK Government’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) commitment and is overseen by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), and delivered through 17 delivery partners including the Research Councils, the UK Academies, the UK Space Agency and funding bodies.  It harnesses the expertise of the UK’s world-leading researchers, focusing on: funding challenge-led disciplinary and interdisciplinary research; strengthening capability for research, innovation and knowledge exchange; and providing an agile response to emergencies where there is an urgent research or on-the-ground need.

About Plantwise

Plantwise is a global programme, led by CABI, to increase food security and improve rural livelihoods by reducing crop losses. Working in close partnership with relevant actors,  Plantwise strengthens national plant health systems from within, enabling countries to provide farmers with the knowledge they need to lose less and feed more.

The programme is funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID); the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC); the European Commission DG DEVCO (EuropeAid); the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Netherlands (DGIS); Irish Aid; the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD); the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR); and the Ministry of Agriculture of the People’s Republic of China.