It was such a pleasure to talk to Noureen Anum (Anum) over video call from across the border in India and hearing about her experiences and role in Plantwise. She is an agricultural officer in Taxila, a small Tehsil near Rawalpandi District in the Punjab province of Pakistan. Taxila has long been known for its universities empowering many with knowledge and information. Anum has been working in the extension service for the last two and a half years and was trained as Plantwise master trainer in 2017. Since then she has not only been training more master trainers to scale up trainings but is also continues to work with farmers as a plant doctor.
Anum gets a mix of both male and females farmers in her clinic which she generally holds a clinic once a week in the Union Council office for the farmers’ convenience. Anum finds that holding a clinic in a space where farmers are already visiting for other tasks means higher attendance.
Before she trained with Plantwise, Anum was just like any other local agricultural officer visiting farmers’ fields to solve their issues related to agriculture. “Training with Plantwise modules has certainly broadened my horizons in terms of learning and experience,” says Anum. She finds the Plantwise modules very effective in helping her understand how to give good recommendations especially on non-chemical practices that can benefit the farmers.
Farmers appreciate the plant doctors’ advice and also adopt practices like biological control. There are government labs where products like pheromone traps and lures are even given free of cost. The scope of biocontrol producta is certainly limited under current circumstances because farmers with small landholdings can’t take much risk using biocontrol products. But perhaps more product availability alongside the validation of such technologies within farmer fields will help the promotion of bio products.
Anum certainly feels that as plant doctor she has more influence as a rural advisor and farmers recognise her in a defined role with specific purpose. “The farmers know to come with samples or even invite me to visit their fields.”
Anum shares an enriching experience from a special plant clinic session which took place around bitter gourd peak season when fruit fly had been prevalent. “The farmers came with such varied samples that it was a good learning experience as plant doctor to recognise and diagnose fruit fly with different symptoms. There was even good exchange of information with the farmers which was mutually beneficial.”
Twelve more master trainers have been trained by Anum and are in turn themselves training even more plant doctors. Now, entire extension offices, both field assistants and agricultural officers are Plantwise trained. As vouched for by many trainees, Anum is an excellent trainer and conducts the training very efficiently. For her, the expectation from Plantwise trainings has been greatly met on gaining extra knowledge, capacity building etc., and moreover when her clinics are visited by seniors of her own department she is greatly acknowledged of her good work.
And what about the future? Anum’s vision is that the farmers who are poor and cannot afford the inputs should be provided some samples to use and test the recommendations that are given by plant doctors; something she likens to the practices undertaken at local veterinary hospitals. “This provides some kind of incentive that can benefit the farmers in their agriculture or living situation and should be provided to promote the concept of clinics,” she notes.
Again drawing on animal health models, Anum also suggests mobile plant clinics. Since public transport is a constraint for female plant doctors, making it difficult to get to the more remote areas, mobile plant clinics (like local animal clinics) can go to different locations taking female plant doctors on a specific date, pre-arranged with the local farmers. She suggests this could initially be piloted and later suggested to the authorities to scale up. “This will facilitate commuting for female plant doctors even in late hours of work,” says Anum.
Her image and role as a female plant doctor certainly inspires others and she even encourages healthy competition for better performance amongst the clinics with other female plant doctors. In her own district office there are 9 women, all of whom are Plantwise trained either as a plant doctor or data manager.
Plant doctors like Anum are paving the way for more women to get involved in Plantwise and agricultural extension in Pakistan more widely.
Dr Malvika Chaudhary is the regional coordinator for Plantwise Asia.