Plant health camps/Plant clinics for sustainable crop protection

I grew up working in the farm and enjoy working in my home garden. This inclination towards agriculture has led me to choose this subject.

The majority of the farmers in my region are small holders where physical and infrastructural barriers limit their expansion. Barriers need to be broken between problems and people and I want to be that bridge between land and lab. I am passionate about photography and plant pathology. Recently I have been engaged in research entitled “Screening of rice genotypes against bacterial leaf blight disease”. Whenever I am on farms I collect plant disease samples, take them to the lab, try to identify and isolate the pathogen, capture them and post them in social media to identify and solve them. I have experience of conducting  volunteer plant health camps, field based research and lab based research and have worked with farmers to identify and assist them in solving their pest problem using indigenous traditional knowledge.

The almost doubling of grain production and tripling of livestock production has resulted in a global food supply sufficient to provide adequate food for all. We are striving hard to grow more food from limited land employing innovative strategies like resistant crop varieties, pesticides, and better cultural practices. But I believe the battle with plant disease is critical and plant health clinics are the best way to address the growing complexity in the pest-scenario. Knowledge of global crop losses due to pests in developing countries is limited. Few governments have systematic research and monitoring programs. In USA and Canada, plant clinics are operating at various state universities and State Department of Agriculture. Under CABI’s Global Plant Clinic Program (now Plant wise initiative) plant clinics are operating in many Afro-Asian and Latin American countries but often without recognition. Plant clinics should be located in easily accessible area, with a prominent name.

I have a dream of creating more  well organized multi-specialty plant clinics, with better infrastructure and resources, to boost food security. These clinics will be farmer-centric, with a distinct identity, welcome-counter with overhead electronic-display of scrolling-text showing relevant message on plant-health, waiting/exhibition hall which signage on diseases/pests, a well-equipped library, agro-pharmacy, and laboratories with traditional/new-age diagnostic tools (microscope with monitor-attachment, digital-camera, laminar-flow, ELISA, PCR, LFD etc. Experienced pathologists, entomologists, agronomists/edaphologists will provide diagnosis and prescription for various pests/disorders. The plant clinic will aim to provide the most accurate diagnosis of plant diseases, insects, weeds and mineral deficiency and toxicity, and offer remedial measures.

The clinic will require a plant pathologist, who can lead the clinic. The plant pathologist must have appropriate knowledge to diagnose many diseases and disorders visually on the basis of symptoms and signs. Plant disease diagnosis is a knowledge-driven process and in many cases trained eyes may diagnose by visual examination. However, if some lab diagnosis is needed, the farmer may be informed by telephone. As delay in diagnosis could harm the farmer, if the problem appears complex, a mobile clinic will be arranged to inform the grower. The Clinic has the responsibility of strengthening plant-health care by educating farmers on pest diagnosis and management, training/teaching students, producing plant doctors, promoting integrated management to minimize pesticide use and saving biodiversity, monitoring pest/diseases outbreak, issuing pest alerts, organizing plant health camps in farm-fairs, and strengthening mobile clinic during pest-outbreak. Other functions include enhancing farmers’ access to information through toll-free-telephone calls, mobile/internet, providing online-advice, enhancing farmers’ knowledge-bank through innovative training/print/electronic devices, maintaining database and networking, conducting impact-assessment, revitalizing farmer-extension research-government interface for optimizing  resources.

Creating such clinics, modeled on human clinics, will provide a wide range of plant health services at zero cost. Such a clinic can be important in lifting crop protection and productivity. Let’s collaborate and embrace thoughts and technologies to create one such clinics in Nepal, and revolutionize plant healthcare.

Dibya Bhatta, Nepal


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