Reaching more farmers with innovative early morning plant clinics

It is generally accepted that early morning is the best time to learn and retain new information. As the saying goes: “the early bird gets the worm.” This long-held belief is being applied in Vavuniya, Sri Lanka, where plant clinics are now conducted at the crack of dawn. The plant clinics are a platform for adult learning, where farmers are taught to follow Integrated Crop Management (ICM) principles to address crop health issues.

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Expanding our e-plant clinic network in Sri Lanka

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E-Crop Clinic Training Locations since 2015

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.

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On International Tea Day, raise a cup to the growers

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Photo: Tweetspeak Poetry, Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

International Tea Day is observed annually on 15 December, and aims to raise awareness of the impact of the global tea trade on the farmers and agricultural labourers who produce tea. It has been celebrated since 2005 in tea producing countries such as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Vietnam, Kenya, Malawi, Malaysia, Uganda, India and Tanzania – all of which are countries where Plantwise operates.

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Water weed removed with surgical precision

Blog written by PT Bandara, CABI Associate, and WMDH Kulatunga, Sri Lanka.

Proliferation of Salvinia molesta in tank No.4 in March 2014.
Proliferation of Salvinia molesta in tank No.4 in March 2014. Images: Thushari Weerakoon, Moragahakanda Kaluganga Development Project.

“A looming threat imposed by Salvinia molesta was averted through the introduction of a biocontrol agent by technical experts of the Department of Agriculture.” These were the words of Project Director Engineer RB Tennakoon, of the Moragahakanda Kaluganga Development Project, Sri Lanka; a project with the key objective to improve the availability of irrigation to water-scarce farmlands and thereby increase crop production and productivity in the area surrounding Kaluganga and Moragahakanda reservoirs, as well as supplying domestic water to Anuradhapura, Trincomalee and Matale districts.

Salvinia molesta recently replaced Rinderpest virus on the list of “100 of the world’s worst invasive alien species” in a global survey conducted in 2013 where over 650 invasion biologists participated. It is a water fern which forms dense mats over water reservoirs and slow moving rivers, causing large economic losses and a wide range of ecological problems to the environment, native species and communities. It can clog water intakes and interfere with agricultural irrigation water supply and hydropower generation.

One of the water tanks at Kaluganga was completely covered with Salvinia in March 2014 and there was a huge possibility of spread of Salvinia throughout the irrigation system of Kaluganga Project. The case was referred to the Plant Protection Service of the Department of Agriculture. Within ten months the tank was clear of Salvinia, without the use of any mechanical tools or chemicals but using a control method perfectly compatible with nature. What made this possible?

It is due to a tiny weevil Cyrtobagous salviniae used as a biocontrol agent. Larvae of  C. salviniae tunnel within the rhizomes/stem causing them to disintegrate. Larvae also tunnel in the buds and adults eat buds, thus suppressing growth and vegetative propagation of this sterile weed. Technical experts from the Plant Protection Service of the DoA, who are responsible for rearing this weevil  provided a culture of the biocontrol agent and introduced them into the infested water bodies.

The elimination of this troublesome weed led to the jubilation of the Project Director. Mr Tennakoon acknowledged the support given by Mr PT Bandara, Deputy Director Plant Protection Service at the time of this project, and his team in removing this highly invasive water weed and thus eliminating a huge threat that would have jeopardized the Moragahakanda Kaluganga Project.

Find out more about management of this weed by searching “Salvinia molesta” on the Plantwise knowledge bank, including factsheets from the DoA, Sri Lanka in Sinhala and Tamil.

The case was referred to the Plant Protection Service. Mr WMPT Bandara and other technical experts visited the tank and released specific biological control agent on 14 March 2014.
The case was referred to the Plant Protection Service. Mr WMPT Bandara and other technical experts visited the tank and released specific biological control agent on 14 March 2014. Images: Thushari Weerakoon, Moragahakanda Kaluganga Development Project.
By June 2015 the tank becomes clear and the control method is a success
By June 2015 the tank becomes clear and the control method is a success. Images: Thushari Weerakoon, Moragahakanda Kaluganga Development Project.

Using the crop clinic concept to minimize the indiscriminate use of pesticides

Bandara PT, Kulatunga WMDH (2014) Sri Lanka Plant Protection Industry Journal 8, 39-44A recent article in the Sri Lanka Plant Protection Industry Journal highlights how the crop clinic concept in Sri Lanka has promoted effective, judicious use of pesticides. PT Bandara and WMDH Kulatunga describe how the Permanent Crop Clinic Programme (PCCP), established in 2009, provides effective advice that both prevents the destruction of natural enemies due to the use of broad spectrum pesticides, and reduces outbreaks of Chronic Kidney Disease, which has become a major socioeconomic issue due to pesticide residues in food. Access to Pest Management Decision Guides and a knowledge bank of information helps plant doctors to find alternative advice where appropriate for prevention, monitoring and control of crop pests in order to ensure minimal risks to human health and the environment.

Read the full article by clicking on the image or the link below.

Bandara, PT; Kulatunga, WMDH (2014) Using the crop clinic concept to minimize the indiscriminate use of pesticides and promoting effective, judicious pesticide use. Sri Lanka Plant Protection Industry Journal 8: 39-44. CropLife Sri Lanka.

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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Factsheet of the month: June 2015 – Conservation of natural enemies

20147801387Friday May 22nd was 2015’s International Day for Biological Diversity.  This year’s theme was ‘Biodiversity for Sustainable Development’ which reflected the importance of biodiversity in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Biodiversity is key in agriculture and it both promotes and is promoted by sustainable methods. Farmers rely on a range of different species for the success of their crops. This may include barrier or repellent crops to prevent pests from attacking their crop, nitrogen fixing bacteria in the soil for nutrient availability, pollinators to transfer pollen between plants, and natural enemies to keep pest populations under control without the need for chemicals.

This month’s Factsheet of the Month, ‘Conservation of natural enemies of pests of vegetables‘ provides information about the role that natural enemies can play and the importance of maintaining populations of natural enemies in the field. This factsheet was written by staff from the Plant Protection Service in Sri Lanka. It is also available in Tamil and Sinhala.

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