Smallholder farmers gather around a radio in Malawi to hear extension messages on how to grow more profitable crops

The value of extension services in helping smallholder farmers grow healthier and more profitable crops has been highlighted by CABI at the 2021 World Conference on Science Literacy held remotely online due to continuing COVID-19 restrictions.

Around 450 experts and guests from around the world attended the conference – on the theme of ‘Science Literacy for a Green Future’ – which was initiated and sponsored by the China Association for Science and Technology, with support from UNESCO, International Science Council, World Federation of Engineering Organizations, and the World Academy of Sciences.

The conference discussed topics on improving public science literacy, promoting low-carbon green transformation and the sharing the fruits of green development.

The exchange of ideas, experience, and knowledge will form a holistic synergy in global environmental governance – leading to the joint pursue of green development and encouraging mutual learning between civilizations.

Dr Ulrich Kuhlmann, CABI’s Executive Director, Global Operations, delivered a presentation entitled ‘Transferring scientific-based knowledge to where it is needed: the importance of extension services’ in which he highlighted how extension services play a key role in technology and information transfer to help lift people out of poverty.

He revealed how Chinese extension, combined with research and development and new technology packages, led to more than a 96% adoption of improved varieties of key staple crops by the 1990s which contributed to 30-40% increase in overall production. In respect of Ethiopia, he told how extension participation increase farm productivity by 6% in Ethiopia, but could be as high as 20% if selection bias was not present.

Opening slide

Dr Kuhlmann speaking at the 2021 World Conference on Science Literacy – credit: CABI.


Specifically, Dr Kuhlmann referred to the CABI-led global Plantwise programme, recently evolved to PlantwisePlus, which works to increase food security and improve rural livelihoods by reducing crop losses. The programme does this by giving farmers better access to practical and research-based knowledge at village level to help them enhance productivity and food safety using, where possible, more environmentally friendly biological crop pest and disease controls.

After 10 years of Plantwise, more than 5,000 plant clinics were established and more than 13,000 plant doctors trained. Over 54 million farmers were reached with help in diagnosing their crop pest or disease problem and advice on how to remedy their issues.

Dr Kuhlmann said, “Extension services are vital if we are to help smallholder farmers contribute towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals of Zero Hunger and the associated environmental concerns of Climate Action, Life on Land and Responsible Consumption and Production.

“An impact assessment of Plantwise in Kenya, for instance, showed by the programme’s monetary benefits outweighed the costs of implementation at a ratio of 3:1 and a 54% internal rate of return.

“Plantwise interventions have led to improved institutional coordination in Kenya’s plant health system, improving detection and response to pest outbreaks.”

Similarly, in Zambia Plantwise interventions on fall armyworm management led to male clinic users increasing their maize yields by around 18% and female clinic users by 8% compared to non-users.

“The next steps are to work towards contributing to the development of more sustainable solutions for the local level,” added Dr Kuhlmann. “We need to broaden target groups to be more inclusive, particularly private sector advisory services and agro-input dealers.”

He said this will aim to be achieved through PlantwisePlus – extending the portfolio of digital learning and decision support tools and at the same time understanding the need for offline solutions to strengthen advisory services globally.

Other invited guests of the conference who gave keynote speeches included Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change; Tu Ruihe, UNEP Representative for China, and Dr Gal Luft, co-director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security (IAGS) and senior adviser to the United States Energy Security Council.

Additional information

Main image: Smallholder farmers gather around a radio in Malawi to hear extension messages on how to grow more profitable crops (Credit: CABI).


Farmers’ crops are increasingly at the mercy of climate change, pests and diseases. PlantwisePlus will work to help countries predict, prepare for and prevent potential threats and reduce crop losses. The programme will provide comprehensive support to countries and farmers so they meet the increasing global demand for quality food in a changing climate.

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