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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Infographic: Plantwise progress in Africa


Sri Lankan plant doctors launch e-plant clinics

Farmers listen to the plant doctors whilst they wait their turn. Ginigathhena crop clinic. Photo: Katherine Cameron ©CABI

Farmers listen to the plant doctors whilst they wait their turn. Ginigathhena crop clinic. Photo: Katherine Cameron ©CABI

24 June marked the launch of the first e-plant clinics pilot in Sri Lanka. Experienced plant doctors from ten plant clinics in Nuwara Eliya district came together to learn how tablet computers could enhance the current Permanent Crop Clinic Programme (PCCP) led by the Plant Protection Service, Department of Agriculture. Plant doctors learnt:

  • how electronic data collection and submission could make it easier to collect data about crops and pests in the area
  • how to use the Plantwise factsheets library app, ebooks library, and internet to access information resources during their clinics
  • how to communicate with other plant doctors and local diagnostic experts using a chat app
  • how to ensure that farmers receive good advice in a written recommendation, in the language and format (either SMS or paper) chosen by the farmer

All of this means that the plant doctors’ job should be a little easier in future and they have access to more support for diagnosing pests and providing management advice.

Plant doctor M.N. Sagarika uses her tablet to record data about A. Weerasooriya's bean anthracnose problem. Photo: Abdul Rehman ©CABI

Plant doctor M.N. Sagarika uses her tablet to record data about A. Weerasooriya’s bean anthracnose problem. Photo: Abdul Rehman ©CABI

“It’s easy to carry [the tablet] to the field or any other place with lots of information inside it… The Plantwise factsheet app is easy to use and no need to carry lots of heavy books. Copy paste is more easy, accurate, comprehensive and detailed.” – NMM Chandana Kumara, plant doctor, Bulugahapitiya plant clinic.

It also means that new data can be submitted, collated and analysed quickly after the plant clinics so that stakeholders in the plant health system can use it to track distribution of pests, monitor quality of advice given to farmers, and feed back information to improve the service in future.

“For sharing and using the data e-crop clinics are very good because the data will come quicker. Previously it took a long time to process data – we would see it maybe the next season, not the same season.” – PT Bandara, previous National Coordinator, PCCP.

“Making the data available quicker will help me to monitor the crop clinics in Nuwara Eliya more easily. I can’t visit every clinic in the field but seeing the data will let me know what is going on.” – Ms PK Senevirathne, Deputy Director Extension, Nuwara Eliya district.

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Farmer Field Day training in Malawi

Salima Rice Field Day 021On Tuesday, June 3rd, Land O’Lakes held another in a series of Farmer Field Day training events at one of their signature Answer Plot® sites, known locally as Yankho Plot™ sites in Malawi.  This farmer training event was held in Salima district, Malawi, on a plot planted with several varieties of rice.  On this day, farmers got to see Kilombero and Funwe rice plants right before harvest and to hear from Lead Farmers (who had been trained by Land O’Lakes staff) and Ministry of Agriculture field extension agents, all about the characteristics of these two new strains of these two rice varieties.  In addition, farmers were taken through rice trials done on site in collaboration with the GOM Ministry of Agriculture, the CCARDESA (Center for Coordination of Agricultural Research and Development for South Africa) and the World Bank.  Under this USDA-funded Food for progress project, Land O’Lakes uses the Yankho Plot™ sites as learning platforms where complementary information is given out about goat production, animal welfare, best animal feed practices and animal health.  In addition, Land O’Lakes nutrition staff work hand-in-hand with MOA Nutritionists and staff from the GOM Ministry of Health to share nutritional information and to conduct cooking demonstrations for all farmer field day participants.  At this special field day event, more than 150 USDA-funded Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) handbooks were distributed by Land O’Lakes to the female heads of community-based Nutrition Groups in order to assist with their community education efforts.  Land O’Lakes also invited many agricultural suppliers and service organizations in order to facilitate farmers networking with other sources of information, services and products.  For example, Demeter Agriculture Limited and CABI Plantwise had tables on which they displayed their helpful information and where staff were ready to talk about their services for helping farmers be better producers.  More than 350 male and female farmers from Salima District participated in the Farmer Field Day training event.

A Leap from an ‘Analogue’ to a Digital Platform: The Story of Kenyan Plant Doctors

A blog written by Willis Ochilo

The stage is set and all the participants are sitting. Beneath the veneer of silence that pervades the workshop room are deep-seated fears. And it does not take long for the same to come out to the fore.

Plant doctor - farmer role play during the training workshop

Plant doctor – farmer role play during the training workshop

The setting is in Maanzoni Lodge in Machakos County. Here, the plant doctors have gathered to be trained in the use of tablet computers.

The participants, 17 in number, come from 8 different counties. They are the second of the two groups being trained this week. Unlike the first group, this group has 8 female plant doctors while the previous one had 3 female out of 14 plant doctors.

Finally! The ice is broken and the first salvo thrown. Lucy Njiru, a plant doctor from Embu County masters the courage to voice her fear. Her fear revolves around the fact; it will be her first time to handle a tablet. “Will I be able to handle the device?” she asks in a subdued voice. And to that, almost in sync, the others start to whizz suggesting they are all grappling with the same fear.

Many before them had raised similar concerns at the start of such workshops. In fact, so accustomed were the facilitators to that question, that it did not take much reflection for them to assure her. “At the end of the two days, you will be a pro,” said one of the facilitators to Lucy.  Read more of this post

Honduras- Jornada de salud de plantas en Belén, Ocotepeque

Jaime Guerrero, Doctor de plantas, dando el mensaje a productores

Jaime Guerrero, Doctor de plantas, dando el mensaje a productores (Carlos Barrera, SENASA Honduras)

Texto escribido por Carlos Barrera, Coordinador de distrito y Doctor de plantas (SENASA Honduras).

English summary follows

La organización ALDEAS GLOBALES, en el municipio de Belén, Ocotepeque, está apoyando en coordinación con el Servicio Nacional de Sanidad Agropecuaria (SENASA)  y el Centro Internacional de Bio ciencias Agrícolas (CABI), la iniciativa PLANTWISE, atendiendo la Clínica para plantas, la cual es atendida por los doctores para plantas Jeremías Vásquez y Jaime Guerrero.

Aldeas Globales, da asesoría Técnica y en mercadeo, a la Asociación de Productores de Celaque (APROCEL), entre los diferentes cultivos que los miembros de APROCEL están cultivando, es el de la lechuga, dicha producción va dirigida los principales supermercados del país, por lo tanto el producto debe de tener altos estándares de calidad, para que el mismo sea aceptado.

Tomando en cuenta lo anterior y considerando que la plaga de la babosa en el cultivo de lechuga, está afectando a los productores, la Clinica para Plantas de Aldeas Globales decidió realizar una jornada de salud de plantas en la plaza principal del municipio en el día 7 de junio, donde los días domingos vienen los productores de todas las aldeas a comercializar sus productos, ahí llegan productores de APROCEL, como también no asociados a la misma,  el tema que se abordo fue “La Babosa en el Cultivo de Lechuga”.

Se elaboró una hoja técnica sobre el tema y se les dio el mensaje y entrego mini hojas técnicas con las medidas de control de la plaga a unas 120 personas, las cuales se mostraron muy interesados de conocer sobre el tema, al consultarles sobre que otro tema les gustaría conocer la mayoría respondió sobre el Gusano Cogollero en Maíz, por lo que se programó otra jornada sobre este tema para el día 2 de agosto.

On Sunday 7th of June, in Belén (Ocotepeque), Carlos Barrera, Jeremías Vásquez and Jaime Guerrero, three plant doctors associated with SENASA and Aldea Global in Honduras, took advantage that every Sundays producers from all surrounding villages come to market their products in the main square of the town to run a Plant health rally. The plant doctors have developed a technical factsheet on how to control slugs in lettuce crop, an important cash crop of the region, and gave mini technical factsheets providing control measures of the pest to 120 persons during the day. The producers were really interested and the majority of them asked if it was possible to have more information on other pests such as the armyworm (Spodoptera sp.) attacking maize crop. Thus, responding to farmer’s needs, another Plant health rally has been scheduled for the 2nd of August to provide information and recommendations on how to control the armyworm.

Atenciones en Clínicas de Plantas y asistencias a los agricultores en la Amazonía Peruana

Texto escribido por Martha Passador y Javier Franco.

English summary follows

Señora Eugenia: Oportunidad para aprender y llevar este conocimiento para la tierra donde trabajamos nosotros. Foto: Martha Passador

Señora Eugenia: Oportunidad para aprender y llevar este conocimiento para la tierra donde trabajamos nosotros. Foto: Martha Passador

El éxito de una clínica de plantas se puede evaluar por la cantidad de productores que buscan este servicio. Algunos traen sus muestras, o solamente conversan con los doctores de plantas.

En determinadas regiones, hay cultivos y problemas agrícolas que son comunes para todos. En estos casos, los doctores de plantas y técnicos que trabajan conjuntamente en las clínicas, ofrecen charlas técnicas acerca de temas relacionados al manejo, control, buenas prácticas de cultivo y otras informaciones necesarias para evitar pérdidas en los cultivos.

Actualmente, ésta es una práctica común en las clínicas, y hace que el agricultor se sienta mejor acogido. Un ejemplo son las atenciones ofrecidas por los doctores de plantas de la Estación Experimental  Agrícola “El Porvenir” del Instituto Nacional de Innovación Agraria (INIA), en la región de Tarapoto. Estas atenciones a  los productores locales son ofrecidas gracias a los trabajos de los doctores de plantas Edison Hidalgo y Patricia Orihuela, al trabajo del INIA y los Coordinadores Nacionales Luis Torres (EEA-La Molina) y Luis Navarrete (EEA-La Molina), junto al Programa Plantwise.

Tarapoto es una ciudad del nororiente del Perú, ubicada a una altitud de 250 m a orillas del río Shilcayo, tributario del Mayo. Es una de las principales ciudades turísticas y comerciales de la Amazonía Peruana. Es una región dónde se encuentra una gran superficie con el cultivo de café, por lo tanto, las principales preocupaciones están relacionadas a este cultivo.

Además de las  consultas,  estas actividades cuentan con el apoyo del ingeniero Román Pinedo-INIA, que ofrece explicaciones y recomendaciones para el manejo del cultivo de café y sobre el control de plagas y enfermedades. Los problemas que tienen los agricultores en sus cultivos de café son: principalmente la roya (Hemileia vastatrix), nematodos (Meloidogyne sp.), manchas causadas por Cercospora coffeicola y antracnosis (Colletotrichum spp.). Mientras son presentadas las informaciones, los agricultores también pueden preguntar y aclarar sus dudas. Es un espacio abierto para cambios de informaciones entre todos, agricultores y técnicos. Después de la charla, el ingeniero Román Pinedo, también trabaja con Patricia Orihuela en la atención en la clínica de plantas.

La señora Eugenia Arivalo, una agricultora de 57 años de edad que vive en la provincia de Rioja,  y una de las muchas mujeres que buscan el apoyo de las clínicas, afirma que las recomendaciones que recibe son viables y le ayudan a mantener las buenas prácticas en su cultivo. “Siempre estoy presente en las fechas establecidas para el servicio de clínica, es  una oportunidad para aprender y llevar este conocimiento para mi familia y para la tierra donde trabajamos nosotros” – dijo la señora Eugenia.

Este servicio brinda a los agricultores soluciones y respuestas a una infinidad de dudas, así como conocimientos que mejoran su producción.

In Tarapoto region, plant doctors Edison Hidalgo and Patricia Orihuela provide technical assistance and advice on coffee production at the Experimental Station El Porvenir (INIA). During this clinic session, coffee growers have received recommendations on pest and disease management, including coffee rust (Hemileia vastatrix), nematodes (Meloidogyne sp.), leaf spot Cercospora coffeicola and anthracnose (Colletotrichum spp.).  

Mrs. Eugenia Arivalo, a coffee producer of 57 years old who lives in the province of Pioja and one of the many women who seek the support of the Plant clinics, states that the recommendations that she receives are effective and help implementing good management practices. “I’m always attending Plant clinic sessions for the scheduled dates, it’s an opportunity to learn and bring back this knowledge to my family and to the land where we work”- said Mrs. Arivalo.


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