The Commonwealth Agricultural Bureaux International (CABI) has launched a global information portal on crop pest and diseases, classified by regions, in a move that could slash farm losses, following reports that information access by farmers assists them in saving 40 per cent of their crops from pests.
The portal known as the Plantwise Knowledge Bank has come after detailed research worldwide on the pests prevalent in certain regions, which the scientists then documented. Kenya is among the countries where the organization did extensive research using the innovative 'plant clinics' model where farmers could take 'sick plants' and get diagnosis from qualified plant doctors.
After just six months, over 20 clinics in ten districts were operating weekly, receiving approximately 5,000 queries from farmers in more than 240 villages. These queries formed part of the documentation which has now been fed into the portal.
Available to anyone who is able to access the internet, but particularly aimed at extension workers, government organizations, researchers, and farmers in developing countries, the Plantwise Knowledge Bank provides clear, up-to-date information that can be put into action immediately to diagnose, treat, and prevent plant pests and diseases.
It has been designed to ensure that the information it provides is useful, relevant and applicable. The diagnostic tool enables users to diagnose plant problems based on pictures of symptoms, while country specific home pages mean the information shown is tailored to the user’s location, displaying relevant information on local pests and their treatment. It also offers a range of fact sheets about easily applicable treatments.
Launched as a prototype last year, the Knowledge Bank now includes an improved diagnostic tool which allows farmers to search for crop problems based on location, crop and symptoms. An interactive distribution map plots pests and their hosts at country and sub country level.
For example, aphids which are predominantly based in horticultural growing areas are mapped as is Striga, which blights mostly maize growing areas but is absent in horticultural growing areas.
This means farmers can know beforehand the pests and diseases active in their area, and what to do to insulate their crops from them.
The portal also offers free access to abstracts of recent pest reports published in authoritative scientific journals.
According to Roger Day, CABI’s Regional Coordinator for Plantwise in Africa, the Knowledge Bank will play an important role in tackling global food insecurity. “The right information really can change people’s lives. The Knowledge Bank provides this information, helping people lose less of their crops to pests and diseases, and enabling them better to support themselves, their families and their communities. With the support of the Knowledge Bank, Plantwise can benefit food security, support farmers and ultimately, improve lives,” he said.
Moreover, new ways of delivering the Knowledge Bank’s information are also being explored, with printed Knowledge Bank fact sheets already being distributed in areas where specific plant pests or diseases are particularly prevalent and internet access is unavailable.
The Kenyan agricultural community has hailed the portal saying it reduces the need for extension officers who take time before interventions in the farms, and is cutting costs on wrong pest diagnosis by agrovets.
“Our collaboration with CABI through the plant clinics that picked all these information has been very beneficial to our scientists, researchers and farmers. We are now happy that farmers have been equipped with timely information that will guide their farming ventures,” said Theuri Kungu an agricultural officer from the Ministry of Agriculture, in sentiments echoed by Jacinta Wandoho a smallholder who was among the pioneer farmers to visit the plant clinics when his maize were infected by Striga.
“I feel like I own a doctorate degree in pest management, I can identify a Striga-infested maize, know the diagnosis and how to handle affected maize. I have started using the portal to equip myself with knowledge on other prevalent pests and diseases common in my area,” said the retired teacher turned farmer whose interest is cereal farming.
Anyone interested in the portal can visit www.plantwise.org/knowledgebank.
By Bob Koigi