From PestNet: email@example.com
Modeled along the human health services, plant clinics were introduced in the country in 2010, but due to some apprehension about embracing new technologies, the impacts weren’t really felt in 2012. Since then, plant clinics have been credited with boosting yields through timely interventions, creating a repository of emerging diseases that guides scientific research, and protecting the country from international threats.
Now, the country hopes that plant clinics will transform the country’s food security landscape like they have in countries like the United States, where the concept dates as far back as 1954. In the US, plant clinics, like the one at the University of Illinois and the Morton Arboretum, 25 miles west of Chicago, have been instrumental in protecting the country from foreign attacks. In Montana, for example, plant clinics have been credited with protecting the $100 million wheat, $4 million cherry, and $5.4 million alfalfa seed industries, while also providing timely diagnosis that nips the diseases before causing major damage. Plus, plant health has received special attention at institutions of higher learning, which offer specific and tailor-made courses that concentrate on plant pathology. The University of Florida, for example, offers a PhD program in plant medicine.
There have been pay-offs to these interventions. In October this year, the University of Illinois plant clinic raised a red flag on a new corn bacterial leaf disease dubbed Bacterial Stripe, which is common to Nebraska and other western states, after corn leaf samples tested positive for the causal agent of the disease. Bacterial Stripe was new to the region, so plant pathologists couldn’t estimate the damage on yields but warned farmers to be on the lookout for the disease in the next season.
Though Kenya is yet to have such elaborate and advanced interventions, private research groups and the government are taking baby steps in addressing threats to food security in a sector that provides income to more than 75 percent of the population and contributes 30 percent to the country’s GDP. Led by the research institution Centre for Agricultural Bioscience International (CABI), in partnership with Kenyan research institutions and government, the model has trained approximately 268 plant doctors and recorded 11,600 plant health queries.
On a Saturday morning at the busy Wangige market, some 20 kilometers (about 12 miles) away from Kenya’s capital Nairobi, a group of farmers queue up outside outdoor kiosks, each holding their “patient” in black plastic bags. Four doctors sit in wooden chairs accompanied by their tools of trade: microscopes, pen knives, laptop, and magnifying lenses.
“I have spotted strange worms in my spinach which turn the leaves white. I have spent over Ksh. 10,000 ($100) in pesticides but nothing is working. I don’t think I will harvest anything this season,” farmer Jonathan Mukoma explains to Dr. Simon Simiyu, one of the doctors from the CABI program, who gives Mukoma undivided attention before dissecting the sample with surgical precision. After a few minutes Dr. Simiyu spots the problem: “These pests are called aphids and you should stop using the pesticides you have been buying. Go spray wood ash and give them time. The problem should go away. Come back after a week and let me know the progress,” he says, before ushering the next patient.
Clinics like these have halted major diseases like the virulent Maize Lethal Necrosis, which hit Kenya’s food baskets in 2012, destroying 300,000 metric tons of corn yield in one year according to CABI, and tomato leaf miner, dubbed Tuta absoluta, which wipes out up to 100 percent yields in days. CABI has also been carrying out plant health rallies across areas where the disease and pests are rampant, to train farmers on early detection and control measures. According to Dr. Simiyu, there have been reduced cases of farmers reporting diseases like Maize Lethal Necrosis due to the advice they receive from the clinics. “We teach them low-cost control methods like uprooting and burning the infected maize to tame further spread. We have also trained them on crop rotation to stem the spread of Tuta absoluta,” he says.