May 22nd 2019
CABI’s Plantwise Initiative Still Going Strong
The UK imports around 50% of its food from countries all over the world, most commonly fruit and vegetables. It is important to ensure that this supply of some of the nation’s favourites, like grapes and avocadoes, is stable, and that they are grown using practices that are safe for the grower, as well as the consumer.
One of the challenges faced by the growers who produce this food is crop losses to pests and diseases but, in some countries, access to actionable pest and disease information, including objective information about agrochemicals, can be limited. To combat this, CABI, one of CHAP’s partners, developed a programme called Plantwise, which helps national partners to improve the flow of information in their national plant health systems. As part of this, local agronomists are trained as plant doctors, and are equipped with the knowledge and tools they need to run plant clinics to support smallholder farmers in their region.
CHAP have funded the distribution of electronic tablets to plant doctors in five countries operating the Plantwise programme. These devices are loaded with a number of apps to help to improve the quality and speed of recording and validation of pest and disease data. On average, the time between recording the farmer visit and the data reaching the centralised Plantwise Online Management System (POMS) is 76% lower when using tablets than with paper data collection, which is critical time when new crop threats are seen. As well as facilitating data collection, the tablets provide access to up-to-date agricultural advisory information through the custom-built Plantwise Factsheet Library to support plant doctors to correctly diagnose pest problems and provide safe, effective and practical solutions. Where information on key pests was missing, CABI, with the support of CHAP, have developed new pest-specific Pest Management Decision Guides. The tablets make it possible to deliver new and updated content to plant doctors much faster than traditional dissemination methods. This is particularly useful when new control methods, such as biopesticides, become available in a country.
Since the beginning of 2016, CHAP have funded 180 Android tablets and provided training on the use and maintenance of these tablets to 192 plant doctors and supervisors in five countries. The first county to benefit was Ghana, where plant doctors relished the instant support network set up using an instant messaging app. After the success of the tablets in Ghana, more devices were distributed in Malawi and Nepal. The latest training and tablets were distributed to plant doctors in Peru and Vietnam, who began using the devices in March 2018. To date, the devices have helped plant doctors to collect over 35,000 records of farmer visits to plant clinics and provided access to over 3,000 Plantwise factsheets, covering many crop pests and diseases.
This early detection mechanism has meant that the plant clinics have been one of the first places to observe new pests, such as fall armyworm in Africa. The tablets’ camera allows plant doctors to send images of unknown pests to CABI’s diagnostic support staff for help with validation of their diagnosis. These data are extremely valuable to national plant protection organisations, who use the data to inform decision making on research, national campaigns, training and policy.
As the plant clinics continue to facilitate this much needed information exchange, the spread of pests and diseases continues to be an issue for smallholder farmers, making the speed afforded by digital tools, a necessity. CABI and CHAP will continue to monitor and support the use of the devices in plant clinics and help strengthen the UK’s international food supply chain.
For more information contact Claire Curry email@example.com