International partnership results in real benefits for farmers

CHAP partner CABI is an international governmental not-for-profit organisation operating in 70 countries worldwide. Its stated aim is to improve people’s lives by providing information and applying scientific expertise to solve problems in the world and specifically in the environment.

One of CABI’s global programmes is Plantwise, a plant clinic network run by trained plant doctors, where farmers can find practical plant health advice. Plant clinics work just like clinics for human health: farmers visit with samples of their crops that are affected by pest or disease, and plant doctors diagnose the problems and make science-based recommendations on ways to manage them.

Building on this programme, CHAP has created its International Pest Horizon Scanning capability, which uses tablet computers to bridge the gap between agricultural research and pest management in the field. To this end CHAP has funded tablets for plant doctors, in five countries around the world: Ghana, Nepal, Malawi, Vietnam and Peru.

The International Pest Horizon Scanning capability is key to ensuring the supply of healthy crops for consumption in the growers’ own countries, and for importing nations such as the UK.

In this case study, we hear from two CABI staff who work on the ground to support the plant doctors use this vital technology.

First, Dr Manju Thakur, based in CABI India, reports on the use of tablets as a platform for sharing knowledge on an invasive pest in Nepal, then Idah Mugambi from CABI Africa, shares the benefits that tablets have brought to pest and disease data management in Malawi.

Nepal

Tomato leaf miner (Tuta absoluta), a devastating tomato pest, was reported to have entered Nepal for the first time in 2016. This presented a new challenge for the plant doctors working for the Plant Protection Department of Nepal.

Using the tablets, these plant doctors decided to share their experiences of different pest management methods for Tuta absoluta, so that they could share provide farmers with recommendations that had proved effective in other regions.

This was done via Telegram, a social networking app, which was introduced to the plant doctors during training. Telegram creates channels of communication between plant doctors themselves, and also links them with national and international experts. It has been actively used by the plant doctors in Nepal to enhance their knowledge and to seek timely help on diagnosis via image sharing.

Plant doctors and experts have also used this platform to share management advice released by the extension department about new pests, such as Tuta absoluta This ensures the information reaches all plant doctors in the country very quickly.

This would not have been possible in Nepal before the introduction of the tablets.

Malawi

In February 2017, 65 plant doctors running Plantwise plant clinics in Malawi began to use CHAP-funded tablets to support their extension. Training, facilitated by CABI staff, provided the plant doctors with the knowledge and skills to reap the benefits of the tablets in their agricultural extension work.

Prior to the roll out of these tablets, all plant doctors in Malawi were running clinics using paper prescription forms. The introduction of tablets enhanced the quality and volume of plant clinic data submitted and improved the efficiency of the data management process.

A look at plant clinic data shows that, in the year following the introduction of the tablets, data submitted by some of the “e-plant doctors” increased by more than 50 records per person.

Data recorded by the plant doctors also reached the Plantwise Online Management System (POMS) faster and has progressively been of much higher quality in comparison to the data received from “paper clinics”.

The fact that plant doctors are able to select fields from drop-down lists provided on the purpose-built Data Collection App translates to cleaner data, saving time which can be better used for data analysis. For example, tracking the distribution of pests, and the efficacy of the recommendations being provided.

The devices also support diagnosis and recommendation by allowing plant doctors to easily access a wide range of information resources. Key among these resources is the Plantwise Factsheet Library app, which is also installed on all the tablets. This has enabled plant doctors to give more comprehensive and better-quality advice to farmers.

The plant doctors trained in Malawi in 2017 have continued to provide support in the scaling up of “e-plant clinics” in the country, as trainers, in addition to troubleshooting issues faced by other plant doctors in the use of tablets. They continue to be among the most active plant doctors in data submission to POMS, and on the plant doctor communication channels.

The use of this technology is changing the landscape of agriculture in developing countries, bridging gaps that were once too wide to allow data and information to reach the necessary players.

CHAP’s International Pest Horizon Scanning capability is a great example of how improvements in information exchange is helping plant doctors to provide accurate and timely information to farmers. The simple act of providing such technology is helping toto increase productivity and move the world closer towards the ultimate aim of global food security.

For more information go to our international pest horizon scanning capability page or visit cabi.org

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