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

Plantwise_Africa_Infographic

New FAO Report: Climate change and what it means for food systems

selling carrots in Wangige Market, Nairobi, Kenya

Wakulima Market, in downtown Nairobi, whole sale market for vegetables and fruits coming from smallholder farmers up-country. Its starts early in the morning, lorries are offloaded, customers buy and bring their goods to local supermarkets, smaller markets near residential areas and restaurants.  Photo: Sven Torfinn/PANOS

How will climate change impact the future of food production, trade and consumption, and most importantly, what do leading scientists recommend as an appropriate policy response? In a newly released book from FAO, cross-sectoral insights from scientists and economists put the picture of food and food security into perspective in a changing climate.

The findings through collaborative research cover over two decades of climate change effects on agriculture. These include case studies on key crops and commodities that exemplify broader food system trends, as well as new pest and diseases which have caused reduced crops productivity-  those same issues which programs like Plantwise work to address. One key message for policy makers: smallholder farmers in developing countries will be most affected, as the local and regional food systems they depend on are strained by increasingly variable and unpredictable weather. The challenges unearthed in this report could better position decision makers to direct resources for solutions to improve smallholder resilience- a fundamental goal which underpins global food and nutrition security for the majority of the world’s growing population.

View the official press release and download the report.

Increased carbon dioxide levels in air restrict plants’ ability to absorb nutrients

1.Pollution over fields- could now be a threat to plant nutrition    (Photo by Ken Douglas )

1. Pollution over fields- could now be a threat to plant nutrition (Photo by Ken Douglas)

Contributed by Fiona Bunn

A recent study from the University of Gothenburg has shown that plants that are grown in air with a higher percentage of carbon dioxide (CO2) have reduced levels of nitrogen in their tissue, causing increased nitrogen deficiency and reduced growth. The study was conducted across four continents in large scale projects, and the plants showed the negative effects in all three major types of ecosystem: crops, grasslands and forests. The effects were even shown when fertiliser was applied, proving that CO2 restricts the plants’ ability to absorb the necessary nutrients, not the levels in the soil.  Read more of this post

Working together for Plantwise in South and West Asia

Representatives for agricultural development from South and West Asia came together for a two-day conference in Bhurban, Pakistan in April to discuss country plans for Plantwise activities. Decision-makers from countries including India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and UK, met to share ideas and knowledge of their plant health systems. Read more of this post

Drones approved for spraying crops in the US

Helicopter piloted by remote control sprays grape vineyards in California (Photo: AP)

Helicopter piloted by remote control sprays grape vineyards in California (Photo: AP)

Crop-spraying drones have now been granted the stamp of approval by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the United States. The particular drone which was approved, pictured above in California, is equipped to carry tanks of fertilizers and pesticides, and intended to reach difficult areas to access by ground-based spraying equipment and manned planes. This is not the first time drones have been used in agriculture in the US, but they had not previously been approved for this purpose. Smaller drones have been used for some years by farmers as means of capturing aerial photographs of large areas of crops, aiding identification of unhealthy crop patches. This will be the first time in the country that drones will be spraying and distributing agricultural inputs. Read more

This Earth Day, think agriculture

Corn fingers

On April 22nd, 1970- the date of the first Earth Day– 20 million people marched for clean air, clean water and improved environmental protections. These actions were designed to draw public attention to the environmental agenda and move environmental issues up the priority list of policy makers. The question is: What will unite us this Earth Day? Today we are well aware of the pressures placed on the environment, and we have perhaps more data and more tools to communicate data than ever before. Launched this week, a new awareness tool, the Plant Doctor Game, aims to reach more people with information about one critical environmental movement- sustainable agriculture– and resources here to help.

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