DIGITAL FOOD SYSTEMS EVIDENCE CLEARING HOUSE
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Plantwise offers open access plant health information available on the Knowledge Bank, as well as a range of apps, pest risk forecasts based on earth observation data, e-learning modules and diagnostic services.
Plantwise is a programme led by the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI). The programme is currently in 33 countries spread across Africa, Asia and Latin America, and equips farmers with practical knowledge to lose less of their produce to pests and diseases, leading to increased food security and incomes. Plantwise operates through a network of plant health clinics, which follow a similar model to human health clinics. Farmers visit these plant clinics with samples of diseased plants and the plant doctors, who are trained extension officers, assess the plant samples, give a diagnosis and recommendations/advice for control. The recommendations follow the principles of integrated pest management (IPM) and are two-fold; recommendations to control the current pest problem, and recommendations to prevent a similar problem from recurring in future. At the inception phase of the Plantwise programme, plant doctors would record this information on diagnosis and recommendations, along with farmer demographics and plant sample information on paper prescription forms. A copy of the prescription form would be issued to the farmer, and another copy sent to the data centre for entry and subsequent uploading to the central database, the Plantwise Online Management System (POMS).
With the evolution of the Plantwise programme, there was need to integrate digital technologies into its implementation, to achieve more efficiency and increase reach. The paper prescription form was replaced with an electronic version in form of an Application, the Plantwise Data Collection Application (DCA), running on Android devices. The plant clinics utilising this technology are referred to as “e-plant clinics”, and plant doctors undergo an “e-plant clinic training” to equip them with the requisite skills to operate an e-plant clinic. The plant doctor fills in the electronic prescription form at the plant clinic, and sends diagnoses and recommendations to the farmer in form of short message service (SMS). The completed electronic prescription form is submitted to the POMS database in near real-time.
The Telegram online messaging App is installed on plant doctors’ devices and plant doctors from each country recruited into one Telegram group. These country-specific Telegram groups aid in peer-to-peer diagnostic support and troubleshooting any issues with use of the DCA and other apps installed on the devices. Plant doctors capture photos of any plant health problems they find particularly difficult to diagnose and post these on the Telegram platform. In the event that they encounter difficulties with any of the apps, plant doctors take screenshots with a brief explanation of the problem and post on the platform. In addition to peer to peer support, there are also plant health experts and CABI-Plantwise staff present on these platforms to provide further support to plant doctors as necessary. Plant doctors in one of the Telegram platforms give lectures on agreed pest problems. In this case the plant doctor giving the lecture conducts research on the pre-specified pest problem and shares the knowledge with other plant doctors on a pre-agreed time. There is opportunity to ask questions and seek clarifications and this enriches the discussions. In addition to the main Telegram group, there are also a number of WhatsApp groups formed by plant doctors within each country. These WhatsApp groups also serve the same purpose of communication, diagnostic support and support in the use of ICT tools.
To ensure that the Plant doctors’ have access to actionable plant health information even in remote areas without internet connectivity, their devices are installed with the Plantwise Factsheets Library App. This App, just like the DCA, is available offline and runs on Android mobile devices. It is available in individual country packs and comprises pest management decision guides and factsheets for common crops and pest problems, for the respective country. In addition to the Factsheets App, plant doctors are also introduced to the online mobile-responsive Plantwise Knowledge Bank which is an open access repository of up to date plant health resources. Further, plant doctors are equipped with the Pest-Smart Diagnostic Simulator (PDS) and the Crop Management Simulator (CMS) Apps both of which are serious games aimed towards improving their diagnostic capacity.
Estimated number of active users:
- At inception: 120
- At time of last report: 3400
Evidence of impact
e-Plant clinics ensure quick transmission of plant clinic data – from 105 days using paper prescription forms, to less than two days, according to a study conducted in Kenya. This has enabled rapid response and monitoring especially in case of new pest outbreaks, and plant health data is made available for decision making while it is still relevant. The Data Collection App has drop-down lists which eliminate the need to type in text, and this saves the plant doctor’s time at the clinic, therefore enhancing efficiency as the farmer is served in less time. This also means that the plant doctor is able to serve more farmers. Some plant doctors also use the tablets to send SMSs to farmers, stating the time and location of the plant clinic thus increasing clinic attendance. Also, owing to the portability of the tablet, plant doctors are able to carry it around even on non-clinic days, thus enabling them to serve more farmers when they are carrying out their general extension duties.
Further, with the use of drop-down menus, the process of data cleaning and harmonization to ensure consistency of terminologies used is faster and results to even cleaner data. This also translates to less staff commitment to the process of data cleaning.
The access to information resources on Plant doctors’ mobile devices has significantly improved the quality of diagnoses and advice given to farmers. Plant doctors are now, more than before, empowered to accurately diagnose pest problems and provide actionable, comprehensive and good quality advice that has contributed to farmers’ ability to solve their pest problems. The Data Collection App allows the plant doctor to take a photo of the plant health problem, and submit it along with the prescription form. These photos submitted with prescription forms aid in validation of diagnoses, and are also used in the development of extension materials.