One of the Centre’s partners, CABI, runs an international network of plant clinics in over 30 countries around the world, whose job it is to support growers cope with plant pests and diseases.
Why is there a need
The UK derives 50% of its food from ~190 countries, many of which are developing countries like Kenya, Ghana, Nepal and Malawi, with relatively poor plant health advisory services. Growers, generally smallholder farmers, get little access to pest and disease information or warnings, and rarely receive objective advice about the correct, safe use of agri-chemicals therefore using too much, too often even when using the right active ingredient: 40% of EU food rejections are a result of pesticide residues.
What is the Asset
The drop-in clinics are similar in approach to a human healthcare family doctor. Farmers come to a regular clinic, bringing along infected plants and meet with a CABI-trained plant doctor who diagnoses the problem, records the symptoms, and issues the farmer with a prescription describing how to treat the problem. Treatments may include better farming practices, bio-control or in the worst instances a recommended, safe, chemical solution. Advice is provided to farmers for free, and the clinics have shown farmers significantly increase their yields whilst reducing their input costs. There are over 5000 plant doctors running 2000+ plant clinics, and almost 10m farmers have been reached so far.
(For more information, visit www.plantwise.org or watch this film clip). The Plantwise knowledge bank hosts free information on over 2500 pests affecting a huge variety of host plants, including images of symptoms, disease distribution maps, treatment guides and pest warnings.
CHAP has funded the distribution of electronic devices in the form of Tablets to plant doctors in a number of countries to improve plant doctor efficiency and to speed up the recording and validation of pests and diseases. Delays in validation have been reduced from 3+ months to a matter of hours. This means new diseases and outbreaks can be caught much more quickly.
Why is it of interest to farmers
It will help farmers understand plant pests and diseases relevant to their crops. Data about disease locations can be mapped against variables like weather and soil type so we can forecast likely spread and issue alerts to farmers, government and the food sector, which can then inform growers what to look out for and how to act, when an outbreak occurs.
Such early warning improves not just the food security of smallholder farmers but of the UK, too.
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