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.
E-plant clinic training commenced in Pokhara, Nepal, today, after a successful launch in Kathmandu earlier this week. ICT intervention for the country is funded by the Centre for Applied Crop Science (CACS), UK Government and training was inaugurated in Kathmandu by Dr. Suroj Pokharel, Secretary, Ministry of Agricultural Development and chaired by Sh. Dila Ram Bhandari, Director General, Department of Agriculture.
It is evident that the development in the field of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and digital applications plays pivotal role in present knowledge based economies. Recently, I attended an ICT focussed international conference with my colleague from D2F in Bengaluru which was organised by UAS Bengaluru and GCRA, Australia from 5th-7th January, 2016 on “Innovative Digital Applications for Sustainable Development” at UAS Bengaluru. University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS), Bengaluru has played a major role in developing technologies and extension methodologies and for the sustainable development of the rural communities in Karnataka. The Global Communication Research Association (GCRA), Australia has been providing an academic forum for the past 14 years and also encouraging development of research in underrepresented geographical areas of the globe by focusing their areas of interest.
The conference aimed to facilitate effective dialogue among the researchers, communication specialists, extension professionals and young students in these disciplines for consolidating the strategies to achieve sustainable development through digital applications.
24 June marked the launch of the first e-plant clinics pilot in Sri Lanka. Experienced plant doctors from ten plant clinics in Nuwara Eliya district came together to learn how tablet computers could enhance the current Permanent Crop Clinic Programme (PCCP) led by the Plant Protection Service, Department of Agriculture. Plant doctors learnt:
- how electronic data collection and submission could make it easier to collect data about crops and pests in the area
- how to use the Plantwise factsheets library app, ebooks library, and internet to access information resources during their clinics
- how to communicate with other plant doctors and local diagnostic experts using a chat app
- how to ensure that farmers receive good advice in a written recommendation, in the language and format (either SMS or paper) chosen by the farmer
All of this means that the plant doctors’ job should be a little easier in future and they have access to more support for diagnosing pests and providing management advice.
“It’s easy to carry [the tablet] to the field or any other place with lots of information inside it… The Plantwise factsheet app is easy to use and no need to carry lots of heavy books. Copy paste is more easy, accurate, comprehensive and detailed.” – NMM Chandana Kumara, plant doctor, Bulugahapitiya plant clinic.
It also means that new data can be submitted, collated and analysed quickly after the plant clinics so that stakeholders in the plant health system can use it to track distribution of pests, monitor quality of advice given to farmers, and feed back information to improve the service in future.
“For sharing and using the data e-crop clinics are very good because the data will come quicker. Previously it took a long time to process data – we would see it maybe the next season, not the same season.” – PT Bandara, previous National Coordinator, PCCP.
“Making the data available quicker will help me to monitor the crop clinics in Nuwara Eliya more easily. I can’t visit every clinic in the field but seeing the data will let me know what is going on.” – Ms PK Senevirathne, Deputy Director Extension, Nuwara Eliya district.
A blog written by Willis Ochilo
The stage is set and all the participants are sitting. Beneath the veneer of silence that pervades the workshop room are deep-seated fears. And it does not take long for the same to come out to the fore.
The setting is in Maanzoni Lodge in Machakos County. Here, the plant doctors have gathered to be trained in the use of tablet computers.
The participants, 17 in number, come from 8 different counties. They are the second of the two groups being trained this week. Unlike the first group, this group has 8 female plant doctors while the previous one had 3 female out of 14 plant doctors.
Finally! The ice is broken and the first salvo thrown. Lucy Njiru, a plant doctor from Embu County masters the courage to voice her fear. Her fear revolves around the fact; it will be her first time to handle a tablet. “Will I be able to handle the device?” she asks in a subdued voice. And to that, almost in sync, the others start to whizz suggesting they are all grappling with the same fear.
Many before them had raised similar concerns at the start of such workshops. In fact, so accustomed were the facilitators to that question, that it did not take much reflection for them to assure her. “At the end of the two days, you will be a pro,” said one of the facilitators to Lucy. Continue reading