A more digital approach to managing plant health is leading the way for smallholder farmers grappling with the combined threat of COVID-19 and crop pests which can severely impact upon livelihoods and food security globally.
CABI has been busy promoting its suite of online tools which, combined with the need for farmers to adhere to social distancing rules, has seen an increase in the use of its digital tools and information resources within the Plantwise Knowledge Bank.
For instance, according to a review of service use – led by Dr Claire Beverley, Head of Plantwise Knowledge Bank – and compared to 2019, the figures present best estimates of a 157% increase in views of Pest Management Decision Guides, a 36% rise in views of Plantwise Factsheets for Farmers and a 7% increase in usage of the Pest Diagnostic Tool.
Worldwide, over 500 million smallholder farmers produce food for two-thirds of earth’s growing population but an estimated 40% of crops grown are lost to pests. Plantwise is a global programme led by CABI, which helps farmers lose less of what they grow to plant health problems.
Its network of plant clinics is reinforced by the Plantwise Knowledge Bank, a gateway to practical online and offline plant health information, including diagnostic resources, best-practice pest management advice and plant clinic data analytics for targeted crop protection.
However, with the restrictions in many countries due to COVID-19 pandemic plant clinics in their physical form have had to be suspended. As a result, the benefit of the Plantwise Knowledge Bank resources has come more to the fore in addition to other ways in which extension agents can offer training, support and advice to farmers virtually e.g. through Zoom conferencing and WhatsApp messaging and calls.
For example, remote training on the Plantwise Data Collection app for 80 plant doctors has been facilitated using WhatsApp in Malawi. This allows plant doctors to deliver high quality advice to farmers on management of various pests including the devastating fall armyworm on maize.
In addition, CABI’s centre in Pakistan organised a workshop via Zoom on the development of Pest Management Decision Guides (PMDGs) and Technical Briefs on the fall armyworm, Parthenium weed, and Tuta absoluta. The workshop was inaugurated by CABI’s Regional Director, Dr Babar E. Bajwa who also spoke about the effects of COVID-19 on food security and CABI’s contribution in the field of research.
An online workshop has also been held in India, hosted on the GoToMeeting platform, attended by 12 experts from Tamil Nadu Agriculture University (TNAU), Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK), and the Central Integrated Pest Management Centre, Trichy (CIPM), including plant doctors. Here it was decided how PMDGs could be updated to reflect current pest problems while a phone-in programme has also been started whereby farmers can receive support and advice on the challenges they are facing.
Similarly, Dr Yelitza Colmenarez and Eduardo Hidalgo from CABI Brazil hosted a webinar in collaboration with Plantwise partners Luis Medina (Nicaragua) and Claudia Sainz (Bolivia), on the ‘Development and use of Plantwise technical factsheets and the importance of technology transfer and advisory service delivery to farmers remotely during COVID19 restrictions.’
In Nepal, iDE Nepal teamed up with CABI Plantwise and government agencies to host a workshop on the validation of plant clinic data contained in the Plantwise Online Management System (POMS). The validation of clinic data is crucial in order to evaluate the recommendations and advice given by plant doctors to farmers through plant clinics, and ultimately to enhance the quality of recommendations for the control of pests through Integrated Pest Management-based methods.
Lalit Shah, Coordinator and Integrated Pest Management practitioner at iDE and a Coordinator of Plantwise implementation activities with iDE, said, “Due to sudden lockdown in Nepal, people that included policy makers, plant protection officers, extension agents, farmers, academia, students and NGOs were unable to access authentic information about crop protection.
“Owing to this issue people switched to online sources and the knowledge bank of CABI is one of known and trusted resources due to the strong presence of the Plantwise programme in the country, hence people preferred to follow information of Plantwise for the concerned work.”
The service usage review has also shown that while there has been a decrease in the number of Plantwise Factsheets Library app sessions in 2020 compared to last year – which could be indicative of the effect of lockdown on extension services – there has been continued submission of plant clinic records to the Plantwise Online Management System. This could be a sign of reduced but sustained extension services provided to farmers.
Dr Washington Otieno, Plantwise Programme Executive, said, “The COVID-19 pandemic has strengthened the quest for digital extension and shown benefit that this can offer to smallholder farmers around the world particularly in the face of combined challenges human health and crop pests that threaten livelihoods.
“By working effectively with partners globally, we have managed to bridge the gap of reduced face-to-face interaction through online conferencing and the promotion of Plantwise’s suite of digital tools which ultimately are aimed at helping farmers grow more and lose less of their crops to pests.”
Main image – copyright TreyzKapture for CABI
Plantwise is a global programme, led by CABI, to increase food security and improve rural livelihoods by reducing crop losses. Working in close partnership with relevant actors, Plantwise strengthens national plant health systems from within, enabling countries to provide farmers with the knowledge they need to lose less and feed more.
CABI gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), the Directorate General for International Cooperation (DGIS, Netherlands), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), and the Ministry of Agriculture of the People’s Republic of China for the Plantwise programme.
Learn more about Plantwise and its resources, including the Plantwise Knowledge Bank, at www.plantwise.org