One of the major constraints to agricultural production in Nigeria is infestation of crops by pests and pathogens, causing a modification in the normal state of the plant, the plant organs and its functions. This concept is known as plant disease. Diseases in plants are caused by biological agents including virus, bacteria, fungi, nematodes and insects, leading to crop loss, yield reduction and economic loss.
In Nigeria, the majority of those practicing agriculture are low income farmers with little or knowledge about disease diagnosis and management practices. However, they spent a significant amount of their income in managing disease without any professional advice or technical support, resulting in poor disease control and indiscriminate use of synthetic (chemical) pesticides.
Empirical facts show that farmers in Nigeria use chemicals mostly in protecting their crops from the field to storage houses. Local newspapers have reported several cases of families that are supposedly killed by food poisoning suspected to be caused by high quantity of chemical pesticide either on the field or during storage. Although synthetic pesticides are effective in managing pests and pathogens, nevertheless, improper handling or use usually result to harmful effect on crops, humans that consume the crops and the environment. In humans, the result of exposure to synthetic chemicals ranges from mild skin irritation to birth defects, tumors, genetic changes, nerve disorders, endocrine disruption and even death in severe cases. Furthermore, a particular pathogen strain may develop resistance to a particular synthetic pesticide, thereby making it ineffective.
Considering the fact that plant disease will always remain a challenge for farmers especially in a developing nation like Nigeria where the majority of the farmers are not knowledgeable enough about the concept, it is my desire to create a Mobile Plant Clinic (MPC). With this mobile application platform farmers can upload pictures of their diseased plant and my team (comprising of crop protectionists) will help them to diagnose and give professional support on how to manage the infected plants. The platform will also be used to introduce the importance of botanicals as an alternative to chemical pesticide. Botanicals are plants and plant products which are safer in protecting plants against pathogens. The plant product may be leaves, root, stem or even the whole plant parts that contain anti-microbial properties because of the presence of bio-active ingredients in them.
One of the immediate advantages of this to local farmers is the availability of various plant materials in their various localities they can exploit in protecting their plants themselves. This will also help in reducing the amount of money spent on pesticides, thereby increasing total income of the local farmers. More so, the mobile application will also allow my professional team to interface with farmers and provide information on improved plant varieties that are resistant to various pathogens, where to get the varieties and how to get them. The practice of planting resistant varieties is the most cost-effective, environmental friendly and efficient way of protecting plant against diseases caused by pathogens and it is my aim to bring this important information to farmers in my country. Communication between my team and farmers will ultimately benefit both parties as farmers will become more knowledgeable about the pathogenesis and management of plant diseases while my team will have firsthand information on the major diseases on the field and know where to focus our research appropriately.
Presently, I am already in the process of setting up a team of crop protectionists in plant pathology, entomology and breeding that will work with me as plant ‘medical’ staff in the country. I have a background in plant pathology and have conducted research as an individual and with a team of other researchers as a postgraduate student in my institution and at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Ibadan (IITA). This has given me the opportunity to have a network of researchers in crop protection that are willing to work with me on this project. I will also reach out to web developers that would help me develop an application that will be simple and easy for local farmers to work with. Our team will also work with Agricultural Extension Agents to help us disseminate the information to farmers. Finally, I will write Agriculture Development Agencies and the ministry of Agriculture in Nigeria immediately the project commences to solicit their support in reaching out to farmers in extreme remote areas.
As part of the IUPAC Next Generation Program, I hope I will have the opportunity to meet other researchers across the globe, discuss with them, share ideas, make new connections, possibly work together and ultimately use the experience to enhance this project.
To me, ‘service to humanity is the first work of life’.
Apalowo Oluropo Ayotunde, Nigeria