It is important for farmers in developing countries to have access to the best agricultural information available to prevent crop losses and boost food security and wider livelihoods. Under the Plantwise programme, CABI helps local governments and extension workers set up plant clinics where farmers can come for unbiased and practical agricultural advice helping them to “lose less and feed more”. Farmers come with their crops and the trained plant doctors diagnose plant pest and disease problems and give them tailored recommendations. These clinics have a range of hard copy resources to help the plant doctors make diagnoses and recommendations. Data on the problems are also collected via paper prescription forms- the analysis of these data could allow countries to map the spread of pests and diseases and feed back critical advice. This model has been working well for a number of years but as technologies have evolved they are opening up new opportunities for getting even more resources to farmers and ensuring data is collected and fed back even more quickly potentially making it far more useful.
In response to the new opportunities Plantwise are introducing mobile technologies (tablet computers and SMS messaging) into clinics through a number of pilots. These pilots will test how and in what ways mobile technologies might place plant doctors in the best possible position to help farmers prevent crop losses and boost food security.
The first pilot has just been started in Kenya. I, along with my colleagues Tim and Willis, trained 10 plant doctors from 5 clinics around Nairobi on how to use tablet computers and how to make the most of the specially designed Factsheet app and other e-resources as well as how to fill in the new ‘e-prescription form’.
White October tailor-made The Factsheet app for Plantwise, to take the factsheets, already available on the Knowledge Bank website, and provide a portable electronic library to aid with pest and disease diagnosis; it helps plant doctors give farmers the most appropriate, effective and safe recommendations they can. We’ve already had feedback from the plant doctors on the new Factsheet app:
“It will be very useful to us because it will be exposing us to some information that we did not have before and from the Factsheet app we’ll be in a position now to send to the farmer, the right recommendation at the right time thus increasing the efficiency for the implementation of the recommendations as well as increasing the feedback from the national data centre. It is not even comparable with the paper ones because the paper ones we used to have to leave them in the offices but this one you go with it wherever you go in the pocket. Whenever the need arises, you deliver. It is in my pocket- so anytime it is like a mobile office. So anytime you need a service from me I will just deliver, immediately, on the spot.”- Daniel, Plant Doctor
We are now 2 weeks into the first mobile pilot in Kenya. Plant doctors from each of the 5 clinics have met with farmers, used the new references to diagnose their problems, sent out SMS recommendations and the data is flooding in the same day- in just 2 weeks of clinics we’ve had over 100 records; that’s help for farmers on 100 problems.
This pilot will help us learn about the best ways to use new technologies in the clinics. Through the 8 weeks of this first pilot we are constantly learning from the plant doctors and farmers about what’s working and what’s not- ensuring we meet their needs. The lessons we learn in this pilot will be fed into a second, longer pilot starting in the summer where we will invite more plant doctors from more clinics around Kenya to test whether mobile technologies can support their extension work and ultimately help farmers.
It’s key to our mission that these clinics are run not by CABI, but by governments and local extension organisations, who integrate them into the work they are already doing. Rather than setting up parallel systems, Plantwise works alongside our partners, providing support as necessary- in this case by giving them access to new technologies. The Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture are as excited about the potential role of mobile as we are:
“I am very happy that this innovation comes up and also supplements what the government is also doing in terms of ensuring that the quality of service that we are giving our farmers is the best and it will change the type of livelihood that the farmers have by increasing their productivity.” –James Wanjohi, Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture