Plantwise works with in-country agencies to set up plant clinics, which farmers can attend with a sample of their affected crops to obtain a diagnosis and treatment advice. Plant clinics are often run in larger towns or villages, and farmers can travel many miles to talk to a plant doctor to solve their crop problems. So how do farmers find out about where and when the next clinic is running? I asked co-ordinators of plant clinics in Sierra Leone, Uganda and India about how clinics in their countries are advertised to farmers.
Shouting out about plant clinics
Usually it is down to the plant doctors themselves to promote plant clinic sessions, so they use whichever means are most appropriate for the location of their visitors. The most common way that clinics are advertised in Africa is by word of mouth, either through announcements in church, passing the message on through extension officers who visit farms, or by telling the village chiefs who let their villagers know. Similarly, in India, plant doctors tell the local agrovet who makes an announcement at the farmers’ meet-up or at the village head’s meeting.
In both Sierra Leone and Uganda, one way that the clinic teams alert people to a clinic that is currently in session is by using a megaphone. This can be very effective in drawing the attention of passersby but leads to people coming along without plant samples to show the plant doctor what the problem is.
In a previous post, I mentioned some initiatives that have been developed to communicate with remote African farmers by radio. Most people in rural areas in Africa have access to, and listen to, radio programmes. These are often local stations that are only broadcast to one district. Sometimes plant clinics are announced on the radio, which can be accompanied with a question and answer session with one of the plant doctors where farmers can call in with any crop problems they have. A Catholic NGO in Uganda, Socadido, has its own radio station, which includes a show that gives information on plant pests and diseases, and tells people about plant clinics.
The future of clinics communication
Currently, in most countries with plant clinics, the internet isn’t used to communicate about clinics as very few people have access to a computer. However, the use of mobile phones is widespread as there are often no land lines. Plant clinics in Africa are not advertised through mobile phones at present but it is a possible next step for advertising future clinic sessions. In India, rice clinics, run by the company PI Industries, are promoted by voice calls or SMS messages to farmers’ phones. In fact, as almost all farmers have a mobile phone, the Indian government regularly uses the mobile network as a means of communication to farmers about soil, seed, fertiliser, weather and crop information.
With the ever-increasing prevalence of the internet, even in developing countries, it is possible that communications about plant clinics will become more high-tech. If African agencies adopt schemes such as those in India, as mobile networks develop in Africa, it seems likely that farmers will be able to get more information in relation to their crops by mobile phone in the near future. However, clinics currently already have a high attendance so maybe the old ways are the best, and we can rely on word of mouth and megaphones to shout out about plant clinics.
Thanks to Rob Reeder, Wade Jenner, Ravi Khetarpal and Kavya Dashora for their input to this blog post.