Smart Tech for Food Security
CABI’s Plantwise program helps farmers lose less of what they grow.
Smallholder farmers form the backbone of Africa’s food production, but their crops face a significant threat. Yearly, an estimated 40 percent of crops grown are lost to pests and diseases. Plantwise is a global food security program, led by the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International, which helps farmers lose less of what they grow. So-called “plant doctors” provide farmers with actionable, science-based agricultural advice at “plant clinics,” which are held at local meeting places such as markets and health clinics. The program is active in 34 countries and has reached over 18 million farmers since its launch in 2011. In Ethiopia, more than 300 plant doctors operate over 100 plant clinics around the country. Farmers who attend plant clinics report that their crop yields and farm incomes have increased, thanks to the plant doctors’ pest-management recommendations.
What’s more, these plant clinics are currently being upgraded to “e-plant clinics,” where the plant doctors — equipped with tablet computers — can access the Plantwise Knowledge Bank’s information on thousands of crops and pests from anywhere, even when offline in remote villages. Farmers can also contact plant doctors outside of clinic hours via messenger apps like WhatsApp or Telegram, and even get their “prescriptions” via SMS — making plant clinics more accessible than ever before, which is a crucial factor for rural communities.
Data about the farmers, their crops and pests can now be collected more rapidly, allowing for near real-time mapping of pest outbreaks. The fall armyworm, for example — a devastating maize pest affecting most of sub-Saharan Africa — was first recorded at a plant clinic in Ghana. By tracking how it spread across the plant clinic network, CABI was able to help African governments respond in time and limit its destruction.
Plantwise stands at the forefront of tech innovations to tackle food security and climate change issues. With an eye firmly on the future, the program recently launched a pest forecasting service using satellite data, and it continues to trial an AI-based image recognition system for plant health problems. High-tech solutions such as these are a great way of getting Africa’s youth interested in agriculture — ensuring a more food secure future.