The perfect storm – how drought is hitting crops hard

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Maize is particularly vulnerable to drought (Photo:  Oxfam International)

Last year, one of the strongest El Niño events ever recorded caused significant changes to weather patterns around the world. Southern and Eastern Africa were hit particularly hard and suffered some of the worst drought conditions for decades, with as little as a quarter of the expected rainfall in the last few months of the year1. Drought is still having devastating impacts on crop yields in Africa, and humanitarian crises have been declared in the worst hit countries.

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Shifting gears: expansion of e-plant clinics in Kenya

“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.

Plant doctors (in green lab coats) attending to farmers at Kithumu plant clinic in Embu County

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.

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Plantwise Initiative Equips Farmers with Knowledge in Zambia

NAIS LogoArticle by Dorcas Kabuya Chaaba- NAIS

A small-scale farmer in Chilanga District, Moses Banda has seriously taken up vegetable production. Mr Banda commends Government for its continued support in assisting farmers in addressing crop problems and how best to control them organically.
“My vegetables always had holes due to Sefasefa (Diamond Back Moth) and all I could think of was spraying but little did I know that the chemicals were harmful not only to the soils but humans and the entire ecosystem. Through this interaction with the Plant Doctors, I have learnt insects are being resistant to chemicals and that we should consider treating these insects organically through the use of crop rotation and Neem tree, which is soaked in water and sprayed to infected plants,” he explained.
Plantwise addresses the constant struggle that small-scale farmers go through to produce food by providing affordable, locally available solutions to plant health problems.

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Plantwise-Farmer Field Schools; Synergies in Mozambique

Blog contributed by Martin Kimani (CABI) and Lito Malia (Plantwise National Coordinator, Mozambique)

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Farmer field schools (FFS) are essentially schools without walls that introduce new technological innovations while building on indigenous knowledge. In FFS, farmers are the experts. At a recently held FFS stakeholder and donor forum in Mozambique from 30th to 31st July 2015, CABI presented existing opportunities in linking FFS with Plantwise activities. The Forum brought together representatives from FAO, Agha Khan Foundation, IFAD, CARE, CABI, DNEA, DPA-Sofala, IAM, IIAM, DSV, and DINAS e SETSAN. This was a culmination of exploratory visits and meetings held earlier on in the year in Mozambique, Kenya and Rwanda.

“FFS builds farmers capacity to analyse their production systems, identify problems, test possible solutions and adopt practices most suitable to their production systems. It further, provides an opportunity for farmers to test and evaluate suitable land use technologies and introduce new technologies through comparing conventional ones and indigenous ones”, said Martin Kimani, the CABI Country Coordinator for Mozambique.

CABI presented opportunities for FFS and Plantwise linkages in Mozambique where both agricultural extension programmes can be jointly implemented. New farming technologies and approaches published in extension materials generated in the Plantwise programme will now benefit from existing testing and validation systems under FFS. This will result to a higher adoption and adaptation at farmer level leading top improved livelihoods. This was just one among many other potential benefits Martin highlighted at the meeting in linking the two programmes.

Some of the plant doctors in Mozambique are experienced FFS facilitators hence there is already an adequate potential and enthusiasm in linking FFS with Plantwise activities starting with Moamba district. FAO is currently running FFS in Manica, Vanduzi and Maomba districts.FFS-PW Mozambique

Plant Health Rallies Launched in Zambia

Blog written by Dorcas Kabuya Chaaba-National Agricultural Information Services,Zambia

Farmers at a plant health rally in Chobombo District, Zambia
Farmers at a plant health rally in Chibombo District, Zambia

Rallies are commonly associated with politics, a time when politicians present their ideologies to the electorates in a bid to win votes. But this time around, officers from the Ministry of Agriculture and livestock implementing the Plantwise initiative in Zambia held plant health rallies with farmers to share management solutions on specific crop problems.

Drawn from different districts of the country, these officers who are trained plant doctor held plant health rallies in Rufunsa, Chongwe, Chilanga districts of Lusaka Province while in Central Province the same events took off in Chibombo and Kapiri Mposhi. Farmers who attended the rallies were sensitized on how to control various pests and diseases of groundnuts, cotton, cabbage, tomato, maize and sweet potatoes.

The goal of these rallies was to create awareness of the Plantwise initiative that was launched in May 2013 with an additional focus of advising farmers how to manage pests and diseases reported in the places where the initiative is currently running plant clinics.

The production of food is taken for granted by a lot of people. But to farmers, producing a healthy crop that can give them income at the end of the day can be a challenge. Pests and diseases if left unattended to can have serious consequences. As such, farmers need to be equipped with the necessary knowledge to fight pests and diseases if this problem is to be contained. Plantwise addresses the constant struggle that small-scale farmers go through to produce food by providing affordable, locally available solutions to plant health problems. Plant clinics are at the heart of Plantwise and trained plant doctors diagnose pests and disease problems brought by local farmers using plant samples on a one on one basis, during the plant health rallies, farmers came in large numbers and were helped by Plant doctors.

Clinics and rallies help farmers to access the information they need when they need it and it further helps them reduce crop losses thereby improving crop health and their livelihoods.

Improving food security is not a myth – using the right agricultural extension approaches surely, we can loose less and feed more!

Healing Plants to Feed a Nation

Growing up in a small village in Western Kenya, I often accompanied my mother and other village women on customary weeding expeditions. Whenever we came across sick plants in the fields—which was all too often—my mother would instruct me to pull them out and cast them aside.

I help farmers properly diagnose plant disease and heal their sick plants-Miriam Otipa
I help farmers properly diagnose plant diseases and heal their sick plants-Miriam Otipa

I did as she asked, but wondered to myself: Why do we simply throw out the plants instead of doing something to make them better?

At times, my mother lost nearly 80 percent of her tomatoes to plant disease. The loss was so bad that she eventually stopped growing tomatoes all together. Yet when one of our cows got sick, my mother would call a veterinarian to come and treat the cow. I wondered: Were there no doctors who could also cure our plants?

I turned this curiosity into a career in science and became the first child in my family to attend university as well as the first woman in my village to earn a science degree. Seeking answers to my childhood questions, I studied botany and zoology as an undergraduate to better understand the diversity of crop and animal pests and diseases afflicting farmers like my mother in Kenya and her peers across Africa. I wanted nothing more than to find a practical solution.

So, I became a plant doctor

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