“Necessity is the mother of invention” – Plato
This is a famous phrase, indicating that a need or problem encourages creative efforts to meet the need or solve the problem. The world is currently going through a difficult time due to COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in an almost-complete shutdown of all activities across the globe. This is impacting millions of people but the most affected are poor or smallholder farmers.
Farmers are facing the constant challenge of managing inputs to raise crops; to do so, they need the right advice and easy access to such information. Considering these concerns and feedback from ground-level plant doctors, a phone-in programme has been started to support farmers with expert advice on the different challenges they are facing.
Based on this programme, it was realized that extension messages (advisory) will be needed on a much greater number of crops and problems affecting farmers in this particular area. Quickly, the CABI and MSSRF teams working on the Plantwise programme in India began to assess the plant clinic data from the last five years, on the Plantwise Online Management System. It was felt that a workshop on the validation of clinic data would be the best first step in developing content that would be most effective and practically useful during this difficult time.
The next issue was to meet the challenge of face-to-face meetings among experts and plant doctors, as the government has banned gatherings of more than four people due to the spread of COVID-19, so programme coordinators decided immediately to conduct an online data validation workshop.
The online workshop was hosted on the GoToMeeting platform and was attended by 12 experts from Tamil Nadu Agriculture University (TNAU), Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK), and the Central Integrated Pest Management Centre, Trichy (CIPM), including plant doctors. As per the principles of the Plantwise programme relating to validation, it was crucial to arrive at plausible and definitive advice that could quickly become part of the ongoing phone-in programme and be disseminated to farmers. The validated outputs would also be shared with state stakeholders like agriculture departments and university and agriculture research centres, and of course further dissemination to the wider farming community.
It was also felt that some new and detailed content in the form of Pest Management Decision Guides (PMDGs) is also urgently required to meet the need for advisory services on other crops grown in the region. So, given the success of the online data validation workshop, teams felt confident in conducting a PMDG workshop using the same platform.
The top 10 problems currently lacking content were selected and experts from TNAU and KVK were requested to attend and assist in drafting of the technical content. However, due to the more intensive discussions required for PMDGs, it was clearly difficult to draft content for all 10 identified problems during the workshop. Hence it was decided that first drafts would be developed by smaller groups (each with 2–3 members, including agronomy, entomology and plant pathology experts), which can then be later discussed online with the broader group of experts and accordingly validated by CABI for uploading to the Plantwise Knowledge Bank for use by farmers and experts at a much larger scale.
These successes and challenges were a new experience, involving conducting activities online that otherwise needed physical venues in which to interact. However, during these times it is important that we need to find novel ways to ensure that the smallholder farmers growing our food are supported and can still access the knowledge and information they need to manage pests and diseases on their crops.
For access to free online plant health advice visit the Plantwise Knowledge Bank
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