Contributed by Julien Dougoud, CABI Switzerland
BEA, one of Switzerland’s biggest trade fairs, took place from 29 April to 8 May 2016 in Bern. Over 290,000 visitors attended the fair, where about 950 exhibitors were presenting their goods and services to the Swiss public. Agriculture is an important aspect of the event, and CABI was invited to participate at the event by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) to present its Plantwise programme at their stand, entitled “Über den Tellerand” (“Outside the box”).
Visitors were offered a unique opportunity to talk to real-life plant doctors and to find out how plant clinics help smallholder farmers all over the world. They were asked to pick a ‘sick’ crop sample from a variety of highly realistic reproductions and then ask the plant doctors for information about the disease affecting the crop and how smallholder farmers could treat it.
Over the duration of the fair, eight plant doctors from seven Plantwise countries took turns manning the plant clinic. These eight plant doctors are in Switzerland at the moment as part of their studies for a Master of Advanced Studies in Integrated Crop Management (MAS ICM) at the University of Neuchâtel, which is made possible with support from SDC, Plantwise and the University of Neuchâtel. Thanks to their long experience in running plant clinics, they provided visitors with first-hand information and made Plantwise’s impact more relatable with personal anecdotes.
A number of school classes also visited the SDC expo booth, where they received an introduction to international development in general and learned about SDC’s work across the globe. The plant clinic gave the students the opportunity to learn about integrated pest management approach in a playful way – and the Plant Doctor Game for iOS and Android phones, developed with the Swiss Tomato app developer, also proved to be very popular!
The majority of visitors were really interested in the project, and wanted to find out more. They praised the integrated pest management approach and the fact that Plantwise helps smallholder farmers improve their livelihoods. Many were impressed by the scope of the project, the number of farmers reached and of plant doctors trained. Visitors were also curious how Switzerland supports international development efforts and unanimously approved its support of the Plantwise programme.