So how can we deal with all this plant clinic data?

Plant clinic in Pondicherry, IndiaThere are many ways that data from plant clinics can inform agricultural activities. Clinic data can be used to identify the distribution of major crops and diseases, and help to flag up new and emerging pests and diseases. These data can also contribute to the monitoring of the quality of advice given to farmers at plant clinics, and be used to determine what additional training plant doctors might need.

Plantwise Online Management System graphs
The Plantwise Online Management System will enable plant health stakeholders to view analyses of their plant clinic data © CABI

CABI Country Coordinators and EU Resource Staff for several Plantwise countries gathered in Egham, UK for a two-day course on data management, facilitated by the Plantwise Knowledge Bank team. The course emphasised the importance of collecting good quality data from the plant clinics, and managing it effectively within the country, so that this can provide information to farmers, extension workers, researchers, and other plant health stakeholders.

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Update from Kenyan plant doctors

A plant doctor giving a farmer crop management advice at a plant clinic in Kenya © Sven Torfinn / Panos Pictures

MaryLucy from the Plantwise Knowledge Bank team, who is based in Kenya, has been visiting plant doctors in the Rift Valley to train them in data management. She has already had some very enthusiastic responses from plant doctors and agricultural officers who welcome the use of plant clinics in conjunction with the Knowledge Bank to help farmers and to collect valuable data on crop pests and diseases. Continue reading

New global plant health resource to improve food security


From the devastating Coffee Wilt Disease to the infectious Wheat Stripe Rust: for the first time ever, distribution maps, diagnostic support and treatment advice for thousands of the world’s most damaging pests and diseases of plants and crops are being made available free of charge on the new Plantwise website, www.plantwise.org, launched today.

The Plantwise website contains a fully working prototype of the world’s only global “knowledge bank” of information about plant health. Users will be able to find out more about the Plantwise network of plant clinics and the farmers they are helping, use the online diagnostic support tool and view distribution maps of more than 2500 pests and diseases.

The website is part of a major programme led by CABI to improve food security and the lives of the rural poor by linking scientific research about plant health directly with farmers in the field. The aim is to deliver actionable knowledge that will enable farmers to reduce their losses and increase their yields. Plantwise has already received funding of $11 million from the UK and Swiss governments and is accelerating the establishment of networks of plant clinics, which are the means both of delivering plant health knowledge to farmers, and of collecting intelligence about the occurrence of new pests and diseases.  There are now plant clinic programmes running in 14 countries and pilots running in 5 more.

“It is estimated that as much as 40% of what we grow is lost to pests and diseases,” said Dr Shaun Hobbs, Director, Plantwise Knowledge Bank, CABI. “New threats are constantly emerging, and everyone involved with plant health, from scientists and policymakers to the farmers on the ground, needs to have access to the best information on plant pests and diseases, so that we can stay on top of their control and eradication. We hope that as many people as possible who are involved with plant health will review the resources on www.plantwise.org and let us know if anything is missing and what we can improve. If we all work together, we believe that Plantwise can have a huge impact on the lives of some of the poorest farmers in the world, and those working to help them.”

Can science feed the world?

This was the question posed by Nature’s Special recently. In other words, how can we feed the Earth’s growing population in such a way that no-one goes hungry and nature is left with some land and water of its own? Their answer can be broadly summed up by what Britain’s Royal Society call “sustainable intensification of global agriculture”. Their three main proposed strategies are increased use of GM crops, selective breeding and informed land use choices.