Plant doctors share advice using WhatsApp and Facebook in Central America

by Erica Chernoh and Eduardo Hidalgo, CABI

Haga clic para la versión español de abajo

Discussion of symptoms and a diagnosis on the WhatsApp group for plant doctors in Honduras

Discussion of symptoms and a diagnosis on the WhatsApp group for plant doctors in Honduras


The software application WhatsApp is being used by plant doctors in Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Honduras to provide and receive plant diagnostic support. WhatsApp has proven to be popular in many countries, because it is a free communication tool for sending and receiving SMS messages. CABI Country Coordinator Eduardo Hidalgo and 20 plant doctors in Costa Rica started a WhatsApp group in February 2015 to share photos when presented with plant symptoms they are unfamiliar with. The group has been popular thus far, with plant pathologists and entomologists joining the group to provide diagnostic support. Since the group started there have been more than 40 queries from plant doctors seeking diagnostic support from members of the group which includes entomologists, pathologists, and other plant health experts from the Ministry of Agriculture (MAG), INTA (Instituto Nacional de Innovación y Transferencia de Tecnología Agropecuaria), national Universities, and the private sector.

The WhatsApp tool is simple: if a plant doctor is presented with a problem at a plant clinic or in the field that they are unable to diagnose, they can take a picture of the symptoms and send it to the WhatsApp group to receive diagnostic support. The group members look at the symptoms highlighted in the photos and provide a diagnosis if they are familiar with the problem.

WhatsApp groups were started with plant doctors in Honduras in August 2015 and with plant doctors in Nicaragua in October 2015. In the first few months, 13 plant doctors joined the Honduras group and 11 joined the Nicaragua group, and there have been over 20 posts seeking advice.

The use of WhatsApp has opened up new channels for diagnostic support in Central America. Plant doctors in Costa Rica and Nicaragua have created Facebook pages to seek diagnostic support and share useful information. Plant health experts from around the world are welcome to join the Facebook groups to provide support.

They can follow the activity of plant clinics in the following pages of Facebook: “Clínicas de diagnóstico fitosanitario de Costa Rica” and “Puestos para plantas Nicaragua”.



El aplicación de software WhatsApp está siendo utilizado por los doctores de plantas en Costa Rica, Nicaragua y Honduras para ofrecer y recibir apoyo para el diagnóstico. WhatsApp ha demostrado ser popular en muchos países, ya que es una herramienta de comunicación libre para enviar y recibir mensajes SMS. El Coordinador Eduardo Hidalgo y 20 doctores de plantas en Costa Rica iniciaron un grupo de WhatsApp en febrero del 2015 para compartir fotos cuando se presentaran síntomas de problemas con los que no estuvieran familiarizados. Hasta ahora más de 40 consultas de los doctores de plantas buscando apoyo han sido atendidas en por los miembros del grupo al cual se han unido entomólogos, fitopatólogos, expertos fitosanitarios del Ministerio de Agricultura (MAG), el INTA (Instituto Nacional de Innovación y Transferencia de Tecnología Agropecuaria), universidades nacionales y el sector privado.

La herramienta WhatsApp es simple, si un doctor de plantas se le presenta un problema en una clínica de plantas o en el campo que no pueden diagnosticar, puede tomar una foto de los síntomas y enviarla al grupo de WhatsApp para recibir el apoyo. Los miembros del grupo miran en los síntomas resaltados en las fotos y brindan un diagnóstico si están familiarizados con el problema.

Grupos de WhatsApp se iniciaron con los doctores de plantas en Honduras en agosto 2015 y con los doctores de plantas en Nicaragua en octubre 2015. En los primeros meses, 13 doctores de plantas se unieron al grupo de Honduras y 11 al grupo de Nicaragua, y ha habido más de 20 mensajes en busca de consejo

El uso de WhatsApp ha abierto nuevos canales para el apoyo al diagnóstico en Centroamérica. Doctores de plantas en Costa Rica y Nicaragua también han creado páginas de Facebook para buscar el apoyo de diagnóstico y compartir información útil. Expertos en diagnóstico de plantas de todo el mundo están invitados a unirse a los grupos de Facebook para proporcionar apoyo. Pueden seguir la actividad de las clínicas para plantas en las siguientes páginas de Facebook: “Clínicas de diagnóstico fitosanitario de Costa Rica”“Puestos para plantas Nicaragua”.

Costa Rica plant doctor Facebook group

Costa Rica plant doctor Facebook group: Clinicas de Diagnostico Fitosanitario de Costa Rica

Students celebrate Master’s degree graduation at university ceremony

Agricultural professionals from 10 countries received their graduation certificates on Monday 23 November 2015 at a ceremony to celebrate their successful completion of the first University Neuchâtel-CABI jointly coordinated integrated crop management degree.

The Masters in Advanced Studies in Integrated Crop Management (MAS in ICM) programme was launched earlier this year by CABI in partnership with the University of Neuchâtel and the Canton Jura to help address the need to improve global food security.

ICM Graduation Pic

Students benefited from learning how ICM can help to support farmers around the world to produce sufficient and safe crop yields and avoid a food crisis. They graduated from the programme with either a Masters or a Diploma of Advanced Studies and will return to jobs addressing sustainable agriculture within a range of organisations including governments, advisory services and universities.

The graduation ceremony took place at the Université de Neuchâtel and featured speeches by the University’s Professor Ted Turlings and CABI’s Regional Director for Europe and the Americas, Dr Ulrich Kuhlmann.

“We congratulate the students on their graduation,” said Dr Kuhlmann. “They have all worked extremely hard and deserve their success. We’re very proud to have supported our first set of students to graduate and we look forward to working with more in the years to come.

“Launching the course was an exciting moment for CABI as it enabled us to unlock our expertise in scientific research and training in sustainable agriculture for students from all over the world. We therefore thank and acknowledge the support of the University and other partners as the expertise and support of our fellow institutions in Switzerland helped to make this possible.”

Course student, Raymonda Johnson, Acting Assistant Director and Head of the Crop Protection Service at the Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Food Security in Sierra Leone said: “I’m delighted to have graduated from the MAS in ICM programme. The course has broadened my knowledge and introduced me to new skills and technologies. I look forward to bringing this new knowledge back home to help improve and sustain agriculture in my country – especially knowledge relating to my area of pests and pesticide management.”

The MAS in ICM course is a unique higher education programme delivering science-based knowledge in the field of sustainable agriculture which is supported by the Canton Jura,Plantwise and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. For more information, visit the course website.

Update: New Pest & Disease Records (25 Nov 15)

Aspergillus parvisclerotigenus rot has been detected in garlic in Pakistan © Christine Vaufrey, CC BY-NC

Aspergillus parvisclerotigenus rot has been detected in garlic in Pakistan © Christine Vaufrey, CC BY-NC

We’ve selected a few of the latest new geographic, host and species records for plant pests and diseases from CAB Abstracts. Records this fortnight include the first record of stink bugs in rice farming in the Brazillian Maranhão, the first report of Aspergillus parvisclerotigenus rot in garlic bulbs from Pakistan and new records of the smut fungus Testicularia africana from Tanzania and Mozambique.

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Update: Plant Health News (18 Nov 15)

The Teff Harvest, Northern Ethiopia © Alan Davey, CC BY

The Teff Harvest, Northern Ethiopia © Alan Davey, CC BY

Here’s a taste of some of the latest stories about plant health, including the synopsis, productivity and efficiency of smallholder teff farmers in Ethiopia, the implementation of a project to control fruit fly in Ecuador, and the production and saving seed in Papua New Guinea.

Click on the link to read more of the latest plant health news!
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CABI builds simulation to share plant health knowledge

CABI has built its first simulation to help agricultural advisors share knowledge on plant health with smallholder farmers across the world, and has plans to build more.

Plant Doctor Simulator is a fun and egirls with tabletngaging way for plant health advisors – also known as plant doctors – to examine virtual 3D plants using smartphones or tablets. The rich and realistic gameplay allows plant doctors to investigate the symptoms of plant health issues, and make decisions on what are causing the problems.

Simulations help because they replicate activities that take place in the real world, aiding the education of professionals for ongoing learning and development. They offer a way to enhance face-to-face training and extend the reach of training. CABI’s simulation, which is currently being tested, will complement the support for plant doctors working on the global Plantwise programme.

In partnership with national services, the CABI-led Plantwise programme establishes and supports sustainable networks of plant clinics where farmers can find practical plant health advice. Farmers visit the plant clinics with samples of their crops, and plant doctors diagnose the problems and advise on ways to manage them. The Plant Doctor Simulator will help plant doctors continue plant health learning whenever and wherever they need to.

“Given the urgent need to increase crop yields, organisations with science-based plant health resources have to disseminate knowledge widely and effectively,” said CABI CEO Dr Trevor Nicholls. “This means taking advantage of the growing global access to mobile IT devices in rural areas and the role of this technology for sharing information. Generating and managing knowledge is a core activity for CABI. Plant doctors are already trialling the use of tablets as a way to improve the collection of plant clinic data and deliver valuable information. Developing a simulation seemed a natural extension of this approach.”

Individual plant doctors are able to gain confidence in their skills through regular feedback and scoring throughout the simulation, as well as competition with their peers. The data recorded and analysed in the Plant Doctor Simulator will help to improve and refine Plantwise training modules, while also measuring plant doctor skills and competencies.

Initial feedback from plant doctors has been very positive and the simulation will be tested further during the first phase of its roll-out in 2016.

“Over the longer term, simulations have far reaching potential to enhance the delivery of our knowledge and assess job role competencies,” said Dr Nicholls. “We plan to continue developing the Plant Doctor Simulator by building exciting new content. We’ll also explore other opportunities to develop simulations where we feel they can help make a difference.”

Plant Doctor Simulator was developed by CABI in partnership with Bondi labs. The current version is available to download for free from the Google App Store.

For more information on the Plant Doctor Simulator, watch this video.

Update: New Pest & Disease Records (12 Nov 15)

Papaya mealybugs feed on many economically important crops, and have now been found on Mulberry © Scot Nelson

Papaya mealybugs feed on many economically important crops, and have now been found on Mulberry in West Bengal © Scot Nelson

We’ve selected a few of the latest new geographic, host and species records for plant pests and diseases from CAB Abstracts. Records this fortnight include a report of papaya mealy bug, Paracoccus marginatus in mulberry in West Bengal, the natural mortality of Tuta absoluta eggs in Argentina and Italy with the first record of Encarsia porteri affecting its populations and the first report of spotted wing drosophila, Drosophila suzukii in Kansas.

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Plantwise Vietnam welcomes the Chairman, Governing Board of CABI

Report by Dr Sivapragasam Annamalai, CABI Country Coordinator for Plantwise Vietnam

Mr. Philip Walters, the Chairman of the Governing Board, CABI visited a plant clinic in Tan My Chanh Village, My Tho City, Tien Giang Province, south Vietnam on the 2nd  November, 2015.  It was his first ever visit to a plant clinic in operation. During the visit, he was accompanied by Dr. Nguyen Van Tuat, the Vice President of VAAS and National Coordinator of Plantwise Vietnam; Dr. Nguyen Van Hoa, Director General of the Southern Fruits Research Institute (SOFRI), a local Implementing Organization of Plantwise, Vietnam and Dr. Siva Annamalai, the CABI Country Coordinator for Plantwise in Vietnam.  During the visit, he was able to see the plant doctors in action diagnosing disease samples and giving appropriate recommendations for the problems faced by mainly citrus farmers in the area.  He also interviewed some farmers and a Vice Chairman of the commune to get a feel of their perception on plant clinics and their future needs.

After the visit to the plant clinic, Mr Philip visited SOFRI and was briefed on the overall Plantwise operations in Vietnam by Dr. Tuat and Dr. Hoa. He addressed the questions raised by the Plantwise Team in Vietnam, assisted by Dr. Siva. Mr. Philip also visited the diagnostic laboratory and other Plantwise-related facilities in SOFRI.   Overall, the trip was a successful one and in the words of Mr. Philip: “impressed with the Plantwise developments going on in Vietnam”.


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