By Gift Briton

With agricultural extension services becoming increasingly weak in several countries globally, the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI) is running a new programme expected to empower over 75 million smallholder farmers globally with the knowledge and skills to manage pests by themselves.

CABI held a high-level stakeholder engagement on 16th November in Kenya with key partners, including the Kenya Agricultural & Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), to forge collaborations towards ensuring that most smallholder farmers benefit from the programme.

The Plantwise Plus initiative by CABI will build smallholder farmers’ capacity to prepare, predict, and prevent new incursions of pests through increasing awareness of, access to, and use of affordable integrated pest management(IPM) solutions, enhancing knowledge and uptake of IPM practices through responsive digital tools as well as strengthening systems for responding to pest outbreaks.

This would ensure that farmers produce more food safely, reduce crop losses due to pests, and improve crop quality.

Dr. Dennis Rangi, Director General, International Development at CABI

“As you know, with climate change, pests are moving very quickly and changing their behaviours very quickly, and we will also be moving very fast in terms of how we come up with solutions to tackle them in real time. So, Plantwise Plus is now addressing these issues using more advanced technologies to address the farmers’ current problems,” Dr Dennis Rangi, Director General, International Development at CABI said during the meeting.

The Plantwise Plus program is an upgrade of CABI’s former programme called Plantwise, which has operated for the last decade.

Through Plantwise, CABI managed to build the capacity of over 60 million farmers worldwide on pest management. This was achieved by training plant doctors and giving them tools and know-how to address the issues plaguing farmers.

The plant doctors then trained farmers in groups, market places, and held plant health rallies. During the training, farmers would walk in with diseased plants, and the plant doctor would be able to tell them the problem affecting their crops and provide potential solutions or the way to go about it.

“A critical component of Plantwise Plus is that we are really looking at the nature-based solutions. Judicious use of pesticides is okay up to a point but the use of pesticides should be discouraged as much as possible and we need to look for alternative solutions. So we are looking at how we can provide nature-based solutions to manage some of these pests. We are looking at things like biological control,” Dr. Rangi added.

On the other hand, Dr. Lusike Wasilwa, Director of Crop Systems at KALRO said the data collected under Plantwise informs the early warning systems. For example, Kenya knew that the fall armyworm had entered our borders through the western part of the country through the plant doctors in Busia County.

“They recorded it and transferred the image digitally. Plantwise and plant doctors chip in as early warning systems. Plantwise not only addresses food security but also food safety. Plantwise has a positive impact on food safety and security as well as ensuring the safety of the environment,”   Dr. Wasilwa said.