Plant clinics are being established in Cambodia for the first time. Phil Taylor from CABI UK met up with YC Low and Mei-Jean Sue from the CABI Malaysian office to train Cambodia’s first Plant doctors at the Royal University of Agriculture in Phnom Penh. They were joined by Vietnamese Plant doctors from the Southern Horticultural Fruit Research Institute (SOFRI) who have been running clinics for several years.
Training took place at the Royal University of Agriculture and involved trainees from that institute as well as from General Directive of Agriculture, another institute involved in extension work and also visitors from Hanoi who are keen to host Plant clinics at their institutes.
The training took its usual course of leading the students through the process of developing a idea as to what is causing the problem on the plant. On the Wednesday the newly trained plant doctors were encouraged to go out to a venue and meet with real farmers. They rose to the challenge and were able to correctly identify the causes of the plant health issues that were brought to them.
Following the training, preparations were made to provide RUA with a small computer and scanner so that the data generated from the clinics can be returned rapidly to a central office for collating. CABI also supplied cameras and a USB microscope so that high resolution images of plant material can be sent via the internet.
In addition to the exciting development of Plant Clinics in Cambodia, RUA is intending to set up a diagnostic lab on site so that the material brought to the plant clinics which cannot be diagnosed immediately can be investigated further in the laboratory.
On the evening before departure Phil and Low made contact with other NGOs which are operating within extension services of Cambodia. They have offered support for the fledgling service CABI is offering by providing additional extension material and assistance in the field.
The trainers intend to return in February 2012 to provide the second Module of “How to be a Plant Doctor”.
In Egypt a new ‘banana compost’ has been trialled with positive results. The compost increases crop yields whilst reducing water and fertiliser use. This new cultural method of crop management could soon be commercially produced to help Egyptian farmers
Banana plants only fruit once in their lifetime and are normally burned by farmers afterwards to make space for new banana plants. This is done on a large scale with over 52,000 acres of Egypt used to farm banana plants.
Recently scientists from Egypt’s National Research Centre have, instead of burning the banana plants, mixed them with manure and microorganisms such as yeast. This residue, called banana compost, was then applied to banana plants over 4 successive growing seasons.
A group of scientists from the Netherlands, UK and Africa have studied upland NERICA rice cultivars to identify those that exhibit multi-level striga resistance. In two separate research papers, the 18 NEw RICe for Africa (NERICA) cultivars and their parents were screened for pre- and post- attachment striga resistance. One particular cultivar NERICA 1 was shown to possess high levels of both these types of resistances.
Since 9/11 the number of invasive pests and plant diseases managing to slip into the USA has risen dramatically. Border checkpoints normally act as a first line of defence against these pests and diseases, however the increased emphasis on anti-terrorism measures has led to agricultural issues being ignored. This costs the USA a staggering $120 billion (approximately £75 billion) per year and is threatening some of the country’s most productive agricultural regions.
The increase in the number of invasive pests and plant diseases was triggered by an increased focus on anti-terrorism measures at the expense of agricultural protection. The biggest problem was the reassignment of hundreds of agricultural scientists to the newly-formed Homeland Security department after 9/11. This meant that instead of stopping invasive species at the border they were now involved in anti-terrorism duties. Many of the scientists resigned or retired and those that remained were replaced in the chain of command by officials with little knowledge of agricultural science.
New research at Washington State University shows that barley plants are able to recognise stem rust spores (Puccinia graminis) and begin to activate their plant defences within just 5 minutes of the spore touching the leaf surface. This goes against the previously held view that pathogens had to penetrate a plant in order to trigger the internal plant defence mechanisms. This new knowledge could revolutionise the way that farmers deal with pathogens of cereal crops such as stem rust.