Sri Lankan plant doctors launch e-plant clinics

Farmers listen to the plant doctors whilst they wait their turn. Ginigathhena crop clinic. Photo: Katherine Cameron ©CABI
Farmers listen to the plant doctors whilst they wait their turn. Ginigathhena crop clinic. Photo: Katherine Cameron ©CABI

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.

Plant doctor M.N. Sagarika uses her tablet to record data about A. Weerasooriya's bean anthracnose problem. Photo: Abdul Rehman ©CABI
Plant doctor M.N. Sagarika uses her tablet to record data about A. Weerasooriya’s bean anthracnose problem. Photo: Abdul Rehman ©CABI

“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.

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Black Sigatoka Ravages Caribbean

Symptoms of the devastating disease Black Sigatoka on banana leaves. Image by CIAT International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CC-BY-SA 2.0)
Symptoms of the devastating disease Black Sigatoka on banana leaves. Image by CIAT International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

Caribbean banana farmers are abandoning fields where crops have been badly affected by Black Sigatoka disease. Black Sigatoka has badly affected several countries in the region, including Dominica, St. Lucia, Grenada and Guyana. Black Sigatoka is considered the most destructive disease of bananas and plantains and is caused by the fungus Mycosphaerella fijiensis. It first arrived in the Caribbean in 1991, and has since established and spread throughout the region.   Severely infected leaves die, significantly reducing fruit yield and causing mixed and premature ripening of banana bunches.  As part of the response to Black Sigatoka outbreaks in the Caribbean the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) provided an intensive training programme in management of the disease in Dominica back in June this year. The workshop trained technicians from Dominica, St. Lucia, Grenada, Guyana and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The Caribbean’s tropical climate with high rainfall and high humidity is conducive to the spread of Black Sigatoka, hence the training program focused on the management of the disease, including the strategic and careful use of fungicides in order to manage the disease while aiming to prevent fungicide resistance developing. Last year, FAO provided an expert from Cuba to assess the management efforts of each country in the Caribbean affected by the disease, and identify areas for improvement. For each country, a management and action plan was created in conjunction with the CARICOM Secretariat, the OECS Secretariat, the Caribbean Agricultural Research & Development Institute (CARDI), Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture (IICA), CIRAD, the Ministry of Food Production in Trinidad & Tobago and the Banana Board of Jamaica.

There are factsheets available on Black Sigatoka and it’s management on the Plantwise Knowledge Bank, with factsheets in French, Spanish and English. Click here to see them. 

References:

‘FAO supporting battle against dreaded banana disease’, Dominica News Online, June 2013

‘FAO supporting battle against Black Sigatoka’, St Lucia Mirror Online, June 2013

‘St Vincent and the Grenadines: Banana farmers ‘abandoning fields’’, BBC News, August 2013

Knowledge Bank interview with Agfax radio in Africa

Plantwise factsheet Tanzania
Plantwise factsheets for farmers are freely available on the Knowledge Bank © CABI

Access to agricultural information especially crop pest information, e.g pest identity and practical control options, is an essential ingredient in increasing agricultural production in developing countries. Where available, such information is always inaccessible and poorly developed and farmers hardly understand the contents. The Knowledge Bank, which was launched in July 2012, is part of the wider Plantwise programme, an initiative led by CABI, to help smallholder farmers lose less of what they grow to insect pests and diseases. The Knowledge Bank is an online open-access resource and plays a key role in the access to a wide range of information on crop pests from international scientific literature to simple, actionable factsheets that the farmers can use to solve key pests problems they encounter. This connects both agricultural researchers, extension agents and the farmers in developing countries to reliable and appropriate plant health information wherever they may be.  Visitors to the website are advised to sign up for new crop pest and plant health new alerts which are sent directly to their e-mails.

Agfax, a media based organization with millions of listeners throughout Africa who include farmers, traders, entrepreneurs, field workers – as well as research and development organizations, conducted an interview with me to broadcast on the website to enable wider reach to potential users of the Knowledge Bank. Continue reading

Plantwise Knowledge Bank fully launched

Knowledge Bank country homepage for Kenya © CABI

The Plantwise Knowledge Bank has now gone live! This central portal for collated global information on crop pests and diseases brings together international science and local material. It is targeted at providing knowledge to all users involved in plant health systems – from farmers on the ground, to researchers and academics, to governments and policy makers.

The most significant development for the Knowledge Bank since its launch as a prototype last year is that information can now be easily filtered by country. The country homepages display relevant information on local pests and their treatment.
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Clustering to make a difference

Claire Beverley from the Plantwise knowledge bank has been visiting Kenya, find out what she has been up to in her latest blog post!

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Holding the banner for a new plant health clinic,
Credit: Claire Beverley ©CABI

I imagine there are few sights as breath-taking as the Rift Valley, so on Thursday I was pleased that we stopped for a few minutes on our way to Nakuru. I’m certain I joined the many tourists before me who have stopped at the same vantage point to take a photo or two, but, I’m not in Kenya to be a tourist. Instead my remit is to talk to plant health clinic doctors, based in various locations, about the challenges they face and the development of the Plantwise initiative. That’s exactly what I’ve been doing over the past week, making for a very productive and interesting introduction to Kenya.

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