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How Youth Saved Bananas in Uganda

Ravi Kumar's picture

Imagine yourself living in Uganda, a landlocked country in East Africa, where more than 14 million people eat bananas almost daily. In fact, as a resident in Uganda, chances are you and everyone you know is consuming 0.7 kg of bananas per day. Citizens of no other country in the world eat more bananas than Ugandans.
But suddenly, bananas, your staple food, are under threat. Banana bacterial wilt (BBW), a disease, is attacking bananas. It has already destroyed 90% of bananas on some farms. BBW is known to spread rapidly, and it can cause total crop loss within a year.
Not to exaggerate, but this could be a disaster for Uganda. The bacteria needed to be stopped immediately. That's what a team at the World Bank thought when they out about BBW. The team started to explore various solutions to spread the word to farmers on how to control the spread of this disease and stop it.
They came across U-report, a communications technology developed by UNICEF Uganda to “give young Ugandans a voice on issues they care about.” There are more than 240,000 U-reporters and the number is growing every day. You just have to text “join” to 8500 in Uganda to become a U-reporter.
A joint ICT/Agriculture World Bank team reached out to UNICEF to see if U-reporters can help “visualize the BBW epidemic and disseminate information to affected communities.” This resulted in a five-day campaign with UNICEF and others to save bananas.

The first SMS was sent on March 26, 2013 to almost 190,000 U-reporters with a question: “Do you know any farmers whose banana plantations or crops are infected with banana bacterial wilt disease? YES or NO.”

Within 24 hours, responses from over 35,000 U-reporters helped track the spread of BBW across Uganda. In days that followed, SMSs were sent out to inform U-reporters about BBW and how to control it. Within just five days, 190,000 Ugandans learned about BBW and what they can do to save bananas on their farms.
Using U-reporters to save bananas was a simple, effective, and cheap solution. It only costs 3 U.S. cents per person for each SMS. If BBW had destroyed bananas in Uganda, the country could have lost $360 million per year.

Watch this video about U-reporter:

This is a classic example of youth using technology to help themselves and their communities to avert what might have become a national challenge.
Have you seen others? Tell us in the comments.


Submitted by Md Tanvir Rahman on

We want to do some service like this in Bangladesh. Because our country need this types of service.

Submitted by Joel Selanikio on

It is strange to read an article from a financial institution that in discussing the costs of a system only includes the cost of sending SMS. It would be useful to know the FULL cost of the U-report system including the salaries and travel and per diem of the consultants and programmers who set it up and maintain it. And the maintenance and ongoing costs of the system -- including salaries.

Without revealing the true, full costs of this system it is impossible to compare it to other interventions. For example, it would also have been possible to simply send an informative SMS to ALL Ugandans without the need for foreign consultants or a reporting system, and it's likely that such an approach would have been both more complete and cheaper.

We need to stop describing systems as free or "only 3 cents per person" when the true costs are much higher.

Submitted by Anonymous on

very effective way of communicating but I would like the author to tell us what was the solution to BBW

Submitted by Juan polanco on

This communication technology would be very useful for ugandans, they can also use it in case of naturals disasters.