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Friday, September 2, 2011

HEALTHY PLANTS FOR HEALTHY PEOPLE


Human beings have Clinics while cars and motorbikes have garages/clinics, so why not plants? remarked Dr. Andrew Mugalula the Plant Clinic Country Director- Ministry of Agriculture while facilitating a two days training on plant clinics at RIC-NET offices.
The aim of plant clinics is to help farmers recognize their problems and solve them.
The training whose objective was to enhance participants knowledge and skills in plant diagnosis and electronic data entry run from 31.08.11 to 01.09.11.
The training also aimed at creating a fora for experience sharing on the community’s perception on plant clinics, most common crop diseases reported, lessons learnt, and challenges encountered in the implementation of the project by the plant doctors.

Participants were drawn from Bundibudgyo and Kasese Districts where RIC-NET is piloting the plant clinics project and from the information Centers where she intends to extend the project soon. They included 7 active plant doctors and the 7 information officers from RIC-NET’s Information Centers. Other participants were 4 RIC-NET staff.

Sharing their experiences, the plant doctors noted that the community is so grateful about the plant clinic project and appeals for the establishment of more plant clinics and recruitment of more plant doctors in the community. In Kyondo and Bubandi for instance, only one plant doctor is operating there. From the advisory services given the plant doctors noted that some farmers have reported improved yields in their production and a reduction in the infection rate of their gardens especially the banana plantations.

Overwhelming numbers of clients bringing their sick crop samples; for instance in Bubandi Sub county in Bundibudgyo members learnt that the plant Doctor Katushabe Agnes had received 250 clients since February 2011 to date,inadequate facilitation to visit the farmers’ gardens, inadequate clinical equipments like hand lenses,and disposal bins, inadequate furniture and lack of tents for shelter were named among those challenges hindering the smooth running of the plant clinics.

In addition to this the participants noted lack of knowledge about the plant clinic project amongst the leaders both at district and local Government levels,asserting that some leaders are questioning their operations/mandate. They appealed to RIC-NET to ensure more involvement and information sharing with the different leaders about this project.

Facilitating the training Andrew defined plant disgnosis as that process which involves elimination of suspcision of likely causes to real cause of the crop diesase. Plant Diagnosis is based on 3 options; A-abiotic; this is when the crop disease is caused by non living factors,B-biotic;this is when the crop disease is caused by living things,pests or mammals and C- this simply put is unknown or when the individual is confused and can’t tell the exact cause of the crop disease.
He cautioned the participants to never diagonise a plant if they ain’t sure of the problem, asserting that incase of any challenges they shouldnt hesitate to send samples to the labarotory in Kampala-Entebbe for further and proffessional diagnosis.

The participants learnt that the biggest task in running plant clinics is being able to use the symptoms- the visible expressions of a disease. Andrew revealed some of the most common symptoms to include; brown stain decay especially in cassava,distorted leaves/foliage,necrosis (loosing colour),wilting,yellowing,crocodile skin,brown streaking,leaf curling,fruit decay,white or black powder,declining,strange growths,swelling and cankers to mention but a few.
Once one is able to identify and understand the symptom then its easier to diagnise the sick crop and be able to tell if the infection is fungal,viral or bacterium. Andrew tasked the plant doctors to concentrate on understanding the symptoms first.
Commenting on the coverage of plant clinics in Uganda, the facilitator revealed that plant clinics are still very few in Uganda and majority operate as mobile clinics like only on market days as opposed to other countries like in Congo where permanent plant clinics have been established.

During the training participants were also taken through a number of templates to help them capture/record their data; electronic excel data register for their clients,client prescription form,monitoring form template, among others. Andrew explained that good record keeping makes it easier for the plant doctor to keep track of the number of clients,crop diseases reported and progress registered in a specific period. Other issues trained in were, how to become a plant doctor and how a plant clinic operates.

The participants were introduced to various video showcase studies on plant clinic operations in the world from which they learnt the positive impact that plant clinics have had to the lives of the farmers,the practicability/operations of a plant clinic,and the different media (radios,banners,and public address systems) plant doctors have used to create awareness about plant clinic operations.

As part of the training the participants had a field visit to SATNET’s demonstration site and training center at Toro Botanical Gardens where they were able to look at diffrenet plants and also study the different symptoms exhibited on the crops. Crop samples were picked and jointly looked at in groups by the participants under the guidance of the facilitator.

From the training RIC-NET learnt that participants’ knowledge and skills on plant diagnosis and data entry was enhanced and a broader understanding on how plant clinics operate created.

Wrapping up the training, participants recommended thus; RIC-NET should conduct a follow up exercise to the plant clinics and conduct an evaluation of their operations and also share with the people on ground about this project, more engagement of and information sharing about the plant clinic project should be done with the different stakeholders especially the district and sub county Agricultural officers.

There is also need to establish more plant clinics, and, to train and recruit more plant doctors to meet the high farmers’ demands on ground; related to this RIC-NET should work towards strengthening the existing plant clinics in terms of providing clinical equipments,furniture and imparting more knowledge and skills in various areas to the plant doctors.
The participants also appealed for regular capacity building trainings and to have the training content on DVDs so that they can share/show case it to the communities for easier learning and understanding of symptom identification in crops.