Plant Clinics Taking Root in East Africa

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14 October, 2013

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From VOA Learning English, this is the Agriculture Report.

Crop disease continues to be a problem for farmers everywhere. The non-profit Center for Agriculture and Biosciences International(CABI) says pests and diseases destroy up to 40 percent of the food grown worldwide.

The center based in Britain is trying to change that with a crop protection program, the program is called Plantwise. In the past three years, Plantwise has trained almost one thousand so-called plant doctors in 24 countries, one of those countries is Uganda.

Recently, plant doctor Daniel Lyazi set up a table under a small tent, join market day in Mukono, the village is about 15 kilometers from Kampala, the capital.

People brought samples of diseased plants to his clinic. One farmer brought cabbage covered in slime. Nothing can be done to save his cabbages this year, but Daniel Lyazi's advice may save the next season's crop.

"So he's telling me there's a small caterpillar which eats [the cabbages] starting from the youngest leaf. He's told me that the whole garden has been attacked and affected by this caterpillar. So according to me, I know that it's a diamondback moth."

The farmer has been using an insecticide but Mr Lyazi says the chemical is the wrong one.

"It's tolerant - it doesn't kill the diamondback moth caterpillar. So I'm recommending him to use another insecticide called Fenkill, and in another planting season he should plant with onions. Onions can repel (the caterpillar) and he can get income."

He advises the farmer to plant onions between the rows of cabbages as an additional measure of protection. The clinic lasts about three hours, in that time Daniel Lyazi advises about 20 farmers. The clinic takes place twice-a-month, it started last year.

The Plantwise program says there are now about 90 of these clinics in Uganda, this year donors spent close to $300,000 training plant doctors and expanding the system in the country.

Joseph Mulema coordinates the Plantwise program in Uganda and Zambia. He argues that plant clinics are a far more effective way to get advice to farmers than the traditional model. In the traditional model, agricultural extension workers visit farms.

"Plant clinics can help so many farmers in a very short time. In fact, more farmers are seen in a plant clinic session, if good mobilization is done, than actually an extension officer can look at in an entire month."

Robert Karyeija is a crop protection officer for the government. He says training plant doctors has been very important, this is because even though there were thousands of agricultural extension workers, they just didn't know enough.

"They were there. But the problem [was] they would be general agriculturalists who knew agronomy but didn't know much about pests and diseases."

Since 2010, The Center for Agriculture and Biosciences International has set up Plantwise clinics in 12 African countries - nine of them in East Africa and three in West Africa.

And that's the Agriculture Report from VOA Learning English.