Plantwise by CABI

I like to talk about cool initiatives from time-to-time. This is a space where I like to briefly summarise and highlight projects and programmes in agriculture that work towards increasing food security and that I find cool. It’s important to say that cool for me means many things. From implementation of important theories, such as participative action research, to the use of novel tools to support old traditions, cool can mean different things but in each post I make sure I highlight why is the project or programme in question: cool.

Now, let’s begin with yet another problem to resolve:

Our population keeps increasing while our physical resources do not. Annually, 20% to 40% of crops are lost to disease, pests or weeds. Back in 2012, a study published by Nature, estimated these diseased-led losses of our most vital crops: rice (10-35%), wheat (10-70%), maize (2-20%), potato (5-78%) and soybean (10-80%). As the authors stated, if severe epidemics for all these five staple crops occurred simultaneously, the global food production would be able to feed only 39% of the population. Figuring out how to feed today’s and tomorrow’s population is a priority. Reducing crop loss is a step in the right direction.

Knowledge is power

Since farming is risky, information can be thought of as an input. Extreme weather events are becoming more frequent. Fertilisers and food prices are volatile. Trade and transport are spreading pests and pathogens. All these constraints call for smarter agricultural decisions.

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Great. Now, in order for information to be of any value, it has to reach the right people at the right time. That’s why today I’ll talk about a programme that understands the importance of tailored and timely information. It’s called Plantwise. Supported by the NGO, CABI, Plantwise states in its website, “recommendations given to both female and male farmers have to be effective, available, practical, safe and economical, as well as climate-smart and gender-sensitive.”

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“Plantwise is a global programme that aims to increase food security and improve rural livelihoods by reducing crop losses.”

What is Plantwise and why is it a cool initiative?

Plantwise is a global programme, led by CABI, designed to improve rural livelihoods, increase food security and mitigate poverty by reducing crop losses. It reaches farmers in three waves of intensity. The first one is direct. Farmers receive information from plant doctors at plant clinics, plant health rallies and mass extension campaigns. The second and third are indirect. Farmers receive services by plant doctors outside plant clinics. Farmers also share Plantwise knowledge with friends and neighbours and farmers also receive information through others not directly trained as plant doctors but who access Plantwise material.

Plantwise has three components:

a. Plant Health Systems Development

First, what makes up a plant health system? According to Plantwise, extension, research, input suppliers and regulation. Through the creation of plant clinics, extension tools, that help to disseminate information from plant doctors in addition to other extension activities.

b. Knowledge Bank

Plantwise fosters information exchange which means that knowledge is not only extended, but also collected. The Plantwise knowledge bank has offline and online resources and serves as “a free, open-access source of locally relevant, comprehensive knowledge about plant health problems affecting any crop grown.” Check it out here.

c. Monitoring & Evaluation

Plantwise learns from itself. That is, it constantly assesses its impact, effectiveness and sustainability and shares this knowledge with partners, to constantly improve.

Since it began in 2011, Plantwise has set up plant clinics in more than 33 countries, setting up 1,413 plant clinics, training 3,591 plant doctors and reaching almost 2 million farmers.

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Besides increased food security, for a rural farmer, a reduction in crop losses means more money and time. This can have positive spill-over effects as more expendable income for education or infrastructure. Let’s keep an eye on Plantwise in the years to come.

Thank you for reading and definitely do check out the Plantwise programme official website at Plantwise.org.

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