A Plantwise experience from Tamil Nadu. Writing and reporting by Kavya Dashora, CABI India
50-year-old Sarathambal lives with her husband and son, in Pooncheri village near Iluppakkorai, in Thanjavur district. The family engages in diversified cropping systems in their 2 acre land, to expand the source of subsistence and income, to increase yield, and to minimize pests and diseases commonly found in monoculture.
Sarathambal shoulders the responsibility of cultivating amaranthus, a traditional vegetable for Indian cooking, in different plots of 30 cents, earning a regular income of Rs.3000 (£30) per month.
The family frequently encountered pest and disease problems in their crops. It was par for the course that farmers sought and implemented ad hoc suggestions from peer farmers, suppliers, and fertilizer shops. In this manner, Sarathambal utilized blanket recommendations of chemicals for all crops without scientific diagnosis of the disease.
As a result, over a period of 30 days, the amaranthus crop yield reduced in quantity and quality, fetching lower prices in the market. Sarathambal was anxious as a substantial portion of their family income was depleted due to deteriorating plant health.
Fortunately, M S Swaminathan Research Foundation runs plant clinics, in collaboration with the CABI-led Plantwise programme, to provide precise diagnostic, and advisory services for plant diseases, helping create durable plant health systems for smallholder farmers, in Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, and Maharashtra.
Trained plant doctors examine samples of diseased crops which farmers bring to the plant clinic. They diagnose the problem, and issue best-practice recommendations to manage the problem. They promote an integrated pest management system including the use of cultural, biological and chemical control methods as a last resort. Through plant clinics, extensionists are able to spread awareness about judicious use of pesticides, and give information on which field inputs are locally available. These records from plant clinic visits are also saved and analyzed with help of the Plantwise knowledge bank to give decision-makers a view of farmer needs, problems and timely pest information. Farmers benefit from the accurate, scientific, and effective recommendations in contrast to blanket recommendations resulting in inappropriate use of chemicals which can be harmful to human and environmental health.
Sarathambal brought a sample of the affected plant samples from her field and explained the details to the plant doctors. Amaranth being a hardy and tolerant variety, it is not easily susceptible to disease and this was the first time it was reported in the village.
Upon examination, the doctors diagnosed the cause as white rust and jassids (leafhoppers). To control this problem, the plant doctors gave recommendations of foliar application of neem oil in water along with a combination of fungicides, and where these could be found.
Sarathambal followed their recommendations and after a period of 10 days, her crop regained robust health and vigor, restoring its market value to Rs 3000 per month. She is grateful for the Plantwise programme for their timely intervention with accurate diagnosis and recommendations, resulting in restoration of crop yield and family income.