Agriculture forms the backbone of India’s economy, employing nearly 44% of the workforce. However, farmers in the country face many challenges, not only pests and diseases, which destroy up to 40% of crops. Outbreaks, such as the locust swarms of 2020 and, more recently taro caterpillar in Madhya Pradesh, can affect food security, national security and human health.
Rice farmer, India. Image: CABI
When pest invasions occur, farmers need access to accurate and timely advice. However, there are not enough farmer advisors to reach all smallholders.
The PlantwisePlus programme equips advisory service providers and farmers with the knowledge and tools to protect crops and increase agricultural productivity. In India, CABI is implementing the programme in partnership with the Assam Agricultural University (AAU), the Department of Agriculture, Jammu and the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF).
PlantwisePlus India stakeholder meeting
CABI recently organised a stakeholder meeting at Assam Agricultural University, India, to review the progress of PlantwisePlus in India and discuss challenges and opportunities for the programme. In attendance were representatives from many PlantwisePlus partner organisations, including the Department of Agriculture, Jammu, and MSSRF teams from Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Pondicherry, Orissa and Assam.
The CABI India team was represented by Dr Vinod Pandit, Programme leader DCE, Dr Malvika Chaudhary, Regional Coordinator Asia, PlantwisePlus and Dr Manju Thakur, Regional Coordinator, PlantwisePlus Knowledge Bank.
The stakeholder meeting was chaired by Dr Mrinal Saikia, Director of Research, AAU and Dr Prasanna Pathak, Director of Extension Education, AAU as the chief guest and the guest of honour, respectively. Both emphasized the importance of the timely and effective management of plant health problems in order to reduce crop losses.
Timely pest management
Dr. Sanjay Kumar Chetia, Chief Scientist, AAU-Assam Rice Research Institute (AAU-ARRI) spoke of how climate change has led to the resurgence of several pests and diseases. In addition, there have been several incidences of minor pests and diseases becoming major problems for farmers. Dr Chetia reiterated the importance of timely diagnostics of pests and diseases in providing effective management practices to farmers. As such, the monthly plant clinics have proved to be of great benefit to the farmers of Assam.
All the participating Indian states presented at the meeting, providing an outline of the programme’s progress in their respective states. PlantwisePlus activities, such as plant doctor training and plant clinic operations, are now a regular part of partner activities.
In his introductory remarks, Dr Pandit outlined programme developments, highlighting the focus on digital tools and climate-smart farmer advisory, safer food in value chains, invasive pests and low-risk plant protection products.
However, the partners identified several challenges, such as data management and monitoring and evaluation activities related to plant clinics. CABI and partners discussed these hurdles and agreed to organise more plant doctor cluster meetings and follow-ups.
PlantwisePlus digital tools
To improve the capacity of the public and private actors that support farmers, PlantwisePlus has developed a toolkit of digital advisory websites and apps. The tools address the primary concerns of farmers, such as pest identification, pest management techniques, and information on safe and effective crop protection.
As part of the stakeholder event, Dr Manju Thakur, CABI’s regional coordinator for the PlantwisePlus Knowledge Bank, demoed some of the PlantwisePlus digital tools. These included:
PlantwisePlus Toolkit: A collection of digital advisory tools to support agricultural advisors, including extension officers and agro-input dealers, with decision-making. The toolkit gives advisors access to the latest information on pest distribution, diagnosis, pest management and more.
CABI Bioprotection Portal: The largest global database of biological plant protection products. Users can browse registered products in their country.
PlantwisePlus Knowledge Bank: This is an open-access gateway to practical plant health information and services – from diagnostic and management advice to maps of pest locations and customised alerts on pest news. The Knowledge Bank houses over 15,000 pieces of content on crop health issues.
CABI Academy: Bringing together CABI’s expertise in crop health, agricultural advisory services and digital development, the CABI Academy provides a range of online training courses and certifications that develop and build plant health skills.
Simulator apps: The Pest Diagnostic Simulator App and the Crop Management Simulator App are fun learning games using real-life scenarios to enable users to test their pest diagnosis and crop management skills.
Biocontrol of invasive species
During the meeting, Dr Malvika highlighted the importance of promoting low-risk plant protection products, including biocontrols. The Assam Agricultural University are keen to work with CABI on the biocontrol of invasive species. Moreover, AAU would like to sync this work with climate change – a significant concern for the region. It is hoped this potential work could tie in with the digital tools, particularly CABI Bioprotection portal and CABI Academy online courses.
PlantwisePlus India stakeholder meeting. Image: CABI
The stakeholder meeting at Assam Agricultural University presented a valuable occasion to assess the advancements of the PlantwisePlus program in India and explore the obstacles and prospects for its future implementation. During the conference, particular emphasis was placed on the importance of conducting additional plant doctor cluster meetings and ensuring proper follow-up, as well as improving the management of plant clinic data. Moreover, the meeting fostered an opportunity for Assam Agricultural University and CABI to investigate potential joint engagements and collaborations.
PlantwisePlus supports low and lower-middle-income countries to predict, prepare themselves for and prevent plant health threats in a changing climate – reducing crop losses and empowering farmers to increase income, food security and food safety by producing more and higher quality food.