How Can a Laptop Save An Essential African Crop?

May 7, 2012 by

Cassava, a staple crop grown primarily by women, is the primary food staple of sub-Saharan Africa, accounting for more than half of all calories consumed. In recent years, it has been ravaged by two diseases — Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD) and Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD) — which can render the roots and leaves inedible. These diseases were contributing to the severe food insecurity in the region.

Since 2007, the Great Lakes Cassava Initiative (GLCI), funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, enabled CRS and its partners to help small farmers in six countries: Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi protect cassava — a source of food and income — from two spreading pandemics that were decimating as much as 70 percent of crop yields. Through the project, more than 1.2 million smallholder farm families gained access to improved cassava varieties that are adapted to local conditions, resist the cassava diseases and have higher yields.

One of the key tools in fighting cassava diseases is a light, sturdy laptop computer that CRS sent into the filed to collect data that could track the spread of the diseases. The laptop was small, about half the size of a conventional laptop computer, was easily transportable and was so sturdy it could survive being doused with a pitcher of water!

Here’s a brief video on how the laptop is used to fight cassava diseases.


  1. Larry F says:

    How many computers were there? Would more have helped? I’m also wondering if they were running windows? With money from Gates Foundation I’m assuming so. If more computers would help, can farmers in Africa afford the premium to run windows software. I’m not trying to knock anyone, just to figure out if this is a long term solution, or just a one off proof of concept study.
    Thank you, for the project, and the story.