The Global Plant Clinic (GPC) began over 80 years ago with the creation of a service for essentially microbial identification. The aim was to support agriculture and plant pathologists working in the tropics and not surprisingly there was an early emphasis on high-value commodity crops such as coffee, tea and sugar cane. The original Imperial Bureau of Mycology became IMI, then CMI, back to IMI and now we’re part of CABI Bioscience. Over time the range of crops has changed and hugely expanded, and while we continue to work with scientists around the world, we have striven to provide a wider service closer to the main source of demand. That means mostly extension services – both formal and informal – and of course farmers themselves. The GPC still provides expert taxonomic and identification support, but increasingly ‘diagnosis’ means more than giving a name to an organism. And providing a service means much more than working with fellow scientists. Our own main laboratory and scientists are based in the UK and members of the GPC travel widely and often. We have established a wide range of contacts in recent years now being used to undertake the big challenge of ‘democratizing plant health’. This means helping farmers decide for themselves what plant health problems they have and guiding them to the most effective, cheapest and least damaging means of control. These are not perhaps the main roles or functions conjured up by scientists’ notion of a plant clinic but the job of the GPC is to respond to practical needs in developing countries. That’s what donors want and governments agree. We began a few years ago paying closer attention to national plant health services. Our original findings were not encouraging: labs disconnected from agriculture and growers; services poorly supported and fragmented nationally and regionally. More worryingly, disease lists for countries were incomplete and unreliable: a tendency to plonk down the supposed disease organism name after a loose visual assessment of symptoms does not inspire scientific confidence let alone faith in phytosanitary certificates. Courses for extension agents on how to recognize and interpret symptoms are a small but important part of our training strategy to improve accuracy. Yet many farmers will never see an extension agent let alone use a plant clinic. This is hardly surprising but worth stating clearly. We do, though, have encouraging news of progress to report following short but sharp plant health services initiatives in Bolivia, Bangladesh, Uganda and Vietnam. Local scientists and ‘plant doctors’ are paying increasing attention to the strong demand from farmers for routine assistance with disease problems. Many of these farmers have major difficulties in knowing where to go for advice. We’ve helped overcome this by running plant clinics in markets with PROINPA and CIAT in Bolivia. We’ve developed simple tools for improving the extension/research linkages while helping extension agents interpret farmers needs. A recent case of ‘low soil fertility’ in Bolivia was in fact a nematode problem. Bear in mind that the vast majority of disease management decisions are taken without consulting a plant clinic. Poor diagnosis and hence inadequate advice on control is a neglected cause of pesticide abuse. In addition to training courses for enhanced ‘ field diagnosis’ (a neglected but vital skill for developing countries) we’ve been compiling lists of institutes and people who can be contacted for support. Never assume that it is clear where to go for advice or that this will be freely and openly available – another important lesson we have learnt. Barriers to providing advice can be overcome with careful thought and planning: work to local strengths (don’t build fancy clinics unless these can be supported); use existing scientific information to best affect – it allows you to do much more than you think. To improve the delivery and quality of advice means working better with people. Our experience is simple: when we have trust in and learn to rely on human ingenuity, borne partly out of critical needs but also stemming from natural abilities for innovation and experimenting, much can be achieved. That above all else is the message I wish to convey, on behalf of the people who are collaborating with the GPC around the world, including farmers and extension agents.
Towards the integrated management of Frosty pod rot (Crinipellis roreri) of cocoa (Theobroma cacao).
Keith Holmes‡, Harry Evans‡, Ulrike Krauss†, Roy Bateman*and Lizz Johnson†
‡CABI Bioscience, UK Centre , Silwood Park, Ascot, Berks. SL5 7TA, UK. †CABI-CATIE, 7170 Turrialba, Costa Rica. *International Pesticide Application Research Centre (IPARC), Imperial College, Silwood Park, Ascot, Berks. SL5 7PY, UK.
Frosty pod rot (Crinipellis [Moniliophthora] roreri) of cocoa (Theobroma cacao) is a major biological constraint to cocoa production in Central America (Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua) and the western countries of South America (Peru, Ecuador and Colombia). The pathogen is still in an invasive phase having yet to fill its potential range and poses a continuing threat to other cocoa growing areas of Latin America (Brazil, Bolivia, Mexico). The consequences of failing to manage frosty pod rot may be devastating should the pathogen spread further. It has already impacted on the livelihoods of many smallholder farmers and their communities, who had traditionally relied on cocoa for their income. The potential for economic and environmental impact is very real, a means to contain and control the devastating effects of the frosty pod rot pathogen is urgently required. Conventional control measures, including phytosanitation, have failed to halt the