Water weed removed with surgical precision

Blog written by PT Bandara, CABI Associate, and WMDH Kulatunga, Sri Lanka.

Proliferation of Salvinia molesta in tank No.4 in March 2014.

Proliferation of Salvinia molesta in tank No.4 in March 2014. Images: Thushari Weerakoon, Moragahakanda Kaluganga Development Project.

“A looming threat imposed by Salvinia molesta was averted through the introduction of a biocontrol agent by technical experts of the Department of Agriculture.” These were the words of Project Director Engineer RB Tennakoon, of the Moragahakanda Kaluganga Development Project, Sri Lanka; a project with the key objective to improve the availability of irrigation to water-scarce farmlands and thereby increase crop production and productivity in the area surrounding Kaluganga and Moragahakanda reservoirs, as well as supplying domestic water to Anuradhapura, Trincomalee and Matale districts.

Salvinia molesta recently replaced Rinderpest virus on the list of “100 of the world’s worst invasive alien species” in a global survey conducted in 2013 where over 650 invasion biologists participated. It is a water fern which forms dense mats over water reservoirs and slow moving rivers, causing large economic losses and a wide range of ecological problems to the environment, native species and communities. It can clog water intakes and interfere with agricultural irrigation water supply and hydropower generation.

One of the water tanks at Kaluganga was completely covered with Salvinia in March 2014 and there was a huge possibility of spread of Salvinia throughout the irrigation system of Kaluganga Project. The case was referred to the Plant Protection Service of the Department of Agriculture. Within ten months the tank was clear of Salvinia, without the use of any mechanical tools or chemicals but using a control method perfectly compatible with nature. What made this possible?

It is due to a tiny weevil Cyrtobagous salviniae used as a biocontrol agent. Larvae of  C. salviniae tunnel within the rhizomes/stem causing them to disintegrate. Larvae also tunnel in the buds and adults eat buds, thus suppressing growth and vegetative propagation of this sterile weed. Technical experts from the Plant Protection Service of the DoA, who are responsible for rearing this weevil  provided a culture of the biocontrol agent and introduced them into the infested water bodies.

The elimination of this troublesome weed led to the jubilation of the Project Director. Mr Tennakoon acknowledged the support given by Mr PT Bandara, Deputy Director Plant Protection Service at the time of this project, and his team in removing this highly invasive water weed and thus eliminating a huge threat that would have jeopardized the Moragahakanda Kaluganga Project.

Find out more about management of this weed by searching “Salvinia molesta” on the Plantwise knowledge bank, including factsheets from the DoA, Sri Lanka in Sinhala and Tamil.

The case was referred to the Plant Protection Service. Mr WMPT Bandara and other technical experts visited the tank and released specific biological control agent on 14 March 2014.

The case was referred to the Plant Protection Service. Mr WMPT Bandara and other technical experts visited the tank and released specific biological control agent on 14 March 2014. Images: Thushari Weerakoon, Moragahakanda Kaluganga Development Project.

By June 2015 the tank becomes clear and the control method is a success

By June 2015 the tank becomes clear and the control method is a success. Images: Thushari Weerakoon, Moragahakanda Kaluganga Development Project.

Factsheet of the month: August 2015 – Sprays against Tuta tomato leaf miner

20157800364 In recent years, Tuta absoluta has gained a reputation for being one of the most destructive pests of tomato and can cause losses of 80-100% in the field if left unmanaged. Tanzania are feeling the effects of the yield reduction with a 375% increase in the cost of tomatoes in the past 6 months. A carton of tomatoes that cost Sh16,000 ($9.4) in January 2015 now costs around Sh60,000 ($35.3). Vivian Munisi, a trader at Tanzania’s Arusha central market, is just one of the people who are expecting the price of tomatoes to increase further in the coming months as a result of the shortfall caused by T. absoluta. 

The larvae of T. absoluta, which is also known as the tomato leaf miner, bores into leaves and fruit and feeds below their surface, forming mines as they move along the plant. The network of mines produced as a result of this feeding can also serve as an entry point for disease, which can lead to further damage. Although tomato is the main host for the tomato leaf miner, it can also affect potato and other Solanaceae plants. The pest originated in Latin America but has spread to Europe, Asia and more recently, Africa where it has caught smallholder farmers unprepared.

There are a number of management options that will help to reduce the damage caused by the tomato leaf miner.  These include disposing of infested fruit, setting pheromone traps and applying sprays of either biocontrol or a chemical pesticide. To find out more about tomato leaf miners and how these sprays can contribute to their control, read this month’s Plantwise Factsheet for Farmers which was written by an Agriculture Officer from the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives (MAFSC) in Tanzania. Tomato production in Tanzania has been badly affected by the tomato leaf miner. Read more of this post

Plant Health Rallies Launched in Zambia

Blog written by Dorcas Kabuya Chaaba-National Agricultural Information Services,Zambia

Farmers at a plant health rally in Chobombo District, Zambia

Farmers at a plant health rally in Chobombo District, Zambia

Rallies are commonly associated with politics, a time when politicians present their ideologies to the electorates in a bid to win votes. But this time around, officers from the Ministry of Agriculture and livestock implementing the Plantwise initiative in Zambia held plant health rallies with farmers to share management solutions on specific crop problems.

Drawn from different districts of the country, these officers who are trained plant doctor held plant health rallies in Rufunsa, Chongwe, Chilanga districts of Lusaka Province while in Central Province the same events took off in Chibombo and Kapiri Mposhi. Farmers who attended the rallies were sensitized on how to control various pests and diseases of groundnuts, cotton, cabbage, tomato, maize and sweet potatoes.

The goal of these rallies was to create awareness of the Plantwise initiative that was launched in May 2013 with an additional focus of advising farmers how to manage pests and diseases reported in the places where the initiative is currently running plant clinics.

The production of food is taken for granted by a lot of people. But to farmers, producing a healthy crop that can give them income at the end of the day can be a challenge. Pests and diseases if left unattended to can have serious consequences. As such, farmers need to be equipped with the necessary knowledge to fight pests and diseases if this problem is to be contained. Plantwise addresses the constant struggle that small-scale farmers go through to produce food by providing affordable, locally available solutions to plant health problems. Plant clinics are at the heart of Plantwise and trained plant doctors diagnose pests and disease problems brought by local farmers using plant samples on a one on one basis, during the plant health rallies, farmers came in large numbers and were helped by Plant doctors.

Clinics and rallies help farmers to access the information they need when they need it and it further helps them reduce crop losses thereby improving crop health and their livelihoods.

Improving food security is not a myth – using the right agricultural extension approaches surely, we can loose less and feed more!

UK hosts panel at Milan Expo on climate change and the impact on food security

uk expo 1

What will a changing climate mean for the future of agriculture, and critically, for the 500 million smallholder farming families who depend on agricultural production for their livelihoods? This urgent question was the focus of a recent dialog hosted by the Met Office and the UK Pavilion at the world fair in Milan. The panel brought together representatives from Kew Gardens, the World Food Programme, the UK FCO and CABI’s own Shaun Hobbs, Global Director of the Plantwise Knowledge Bank. Participants in the audience heard presentations which reinforced the need for innovation and collaboration to secure sustainable food systems as we head into an increasingly variable climate in the future. It was made clear that reduced risk for farmers will only be found through continued research and implementation of solutions at international, national and community level. The key is creating and sharing knowledge.

Aaron Davis of Kew Gardens presented a case study of predictive crop-weather response modelling in Ethiopia, where an estimated 15 million people depend on coffee to support their families. Coffee- the second largest trade commodity after oil- is highly susceptible even today to warmer and drier weather being seen now in the country, as research shows. Being able to accurately predict where and when coffee will be able to grow, as the project has tested, will be critical information to policy makers and farmers alike. “You need data and data sharing,” said Mr Davis. “Freely available data can act as the early warning system we need to prevent crop loss.”

uk expo 2As weather fluctuates, farmers also face challenges from new and emerging pests and diseases which can decrease yields and even destroy entire crops, as highlighted by the presentation by Shaun Hobbs from CABI. Each year an average of 30-40% of crops are lost due to plant health problems. The Plantwise knowledge bank, which works with countries to record information from local plant clinics where farmers come for advice on sick crops, produces data that can inform timely response and research on new pest threats. “The most effective pest management needs effective weather information to save farmers time and costs.” Already over 100,000 records collected and a free database with actionable knowledge on 2,500 pests has been created by the CABI-led Plantwise programme.

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Update: Plant Health News (29 Jul 15)

Symptoms of bacterial blight on young pomegranate © Dr. V. I. Benagi

Symptoms of bacterial blight on young pomegranate © Dr. V. I. Benagi

Here’s a taste of some of the latest stories about plant health, including bacterial blight affecting pomegranate quality in India, women in Kenya growing crops in sacks to feed their families and a pledge from China’s Ministry of Agriculture to reduce fertiliser and pesticide use and improve water conservation.

Click on the link to read more of the latest plant health news!
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Healing Plants to Feed a Nation

Growing up in a small village in Western Kenya, I often accompanied my mother and other village women on customary weeding expeditions. Whenever we came across sick plants in the fields—which was all too often—my mother would instruct me to pull them out and cast them aside.

I help farmers properly diagnose plant disease and heal their sick plants-Miriam Otipa

I help farmers properly diagnose plant diseases and heal their sick plants-Miriam Otipa

I did as she asked, but wondered to myself: Why do we simply throw out the plants instead of doing something to make them better?

At times, my mother lost nearly 80 percent of her tomatoes to plant disease. The loss was so bad that she eventually stopped growing tomatoes all together. Yet when one of our cows got sick, my mother would call a veterinarian to come and treat the cow. I wondered: Were there no doctors who could also cure our plants?

I turned this curiosity into a career in science and became the first child in my family to attend university as well as the first woman in my village to earn a science degree. Seeking answers to my childhood questions, I studied botany and zoology as an undergraduate to better understand the diversity of crop and animal pests and diseases afflicting farmers like my mother in Kenya and her peers across Africa. I wanted nothing more than to find a practical solution.

So, I became a plant doctor

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Update: New Pest & Disease Records (22 Jul 15)

Fungi associated with black mould have been identified on baobab, a tree which yields nutritious fruit © Ton Rulkens

Fungi associated with black mould have been identified on baobab, a tree which yields nutritious fruit © Ton Rulkens

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 new distribution and host records for white coconut scale (Parlagena bennetti), fungi associated with black mould on baobab trees in southern Africa and two new Uropodina mites from a pine plantation in Kenya.

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