After 2 hours drive, we arrive in Rufunsa District located approximately 150 kilometres east of the Zambian Capital, Lusaka. After exchanging pleasantries we settle down with Brian Siame a trained plant doctor and one of the participants in our survey to find out more about plant doctor requirements for pest alert messages.
After a brief explanation of how PRISE will work Brian was taken through the survey and its relevance to his role. “The pest forecast messages will be sent to plant doctors like you so that you can provide farmers with timely advice and help them manage local pest outbreaks,” explained Abigail Rumsey from CABI. “The alerts will take the form of short text messages, advising on predicted pest life stage and risk level, with the possibility of including the pest image to help ease identification and diagnosis”.
The Plantwise programme has expanded in terms of its plant clinic network, the number of countries involved and the number of farmers reached since its launch in 2011. This expansion has been facilitated to a significant extent by an ICT infrastructure, i.e. the Knowledge Bank and e-plant clinics (plant clinics equipped with tablets). Mozambique, Nepal, Malawi, Nicaragua and Jamaica are piloting e-plant clinics this year and more countries are showing increasing interest. The programme has overcome various obstacles and the advantages, both practical and data-based, are now being seen at a variety of locations.
PRISE inception workshops were held in Kenya, Ghana, and Zambia in March 2017. In the workshops it was recognised by partners that PRISE is a five year project and that the full benefits will only be fully available at the end. However to ensure that we deliver value in the interim we asked partners to prioritise the order in which we should focus on users, crops and pests. Each year a new release of PRISE will incorporate more users, crops and pests driven by partner’s prioritisation of which to tackle first.
Last year Plantwise launched in Jammu & Kashmir state, India, with the establishment of 15 plant clinics across 3 districts in the Jammu region. This year sees the launch of an exciting new development, with the roll-out of e-plant clinics to revolutionize the extension system and support the quick transfer of information and advice to farmers via text messages on their mobile phones. This process began with a series of training workshops last month, which were officially inaugurated by Jenab Ghulam Nabi Lone Hanjura, Minister of Agriculture, Government of Jammu & Kashmir.
I meet Man Bahadur Chhetri and his assistant on a bright Sunday morning as they are setting up the e-plant clinic in Gorkana, on the outskirts of Kathmandu. On the drive over, I saw plenty of maize being grown on smallholder plots and, here and there, tomatoes in polytunnels. Around the corner from the clinic, a woman is sorting potatoes on the floor of a dark storage room on the ground floor of her house. Nepal’s economy is predominantly agricultural and even a mere 10km from the centre of Kathmandu, I can tell it is a major part of people’s lives.
The Sri Lankan e-plant clinic pilot, which launched in 2015 at 10 clinics in Central Province, was extremely successful in minimizing the time as well as workload of plant doctors performing data management tasks. As a result of these and various other benefits established over the last 2 years, the e-plant clinic network has been scaled up to Northern, Eastern and Western Provinces with around 66 e-plant clinics in operation, and over 86 plant doctors trained to date. The target is to have 140 e-plant clinics across Sri Lanka by the end of the year.
“No matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid!” Passionate words spoken in 2014 during an indelible Oscar moment. The utterance of these words, coupled with the winning of an Academy Award, announced Lupita Nyong’o’s entry into the global stage. Two years later in Lupita’s country of origin, Kenya, long-held dreams in the plant health sector are realized.
Indeed, the journey to realizing the usefulness of mobile technologies for the plant health sector has been long, and to some extent treacherous. Was the Plantwise program setting up the agricultural extension officers for failure? Was the program having unrealistic expectations? Could it be, in the program’s quest to keep up with the times, it was essentially building an ivory tower? All these were questions Plantwise grappled with in 2014 when it introduced mobile technologies for the running of plant clinics.