The UK Department for International Development (DFID) is using new early-warning systems and technology to train thousands of farmers across Africa, Asia and the Americas to become ‘plant doctors’.
Plant doctors are trained in diagnosing pests or disease in crops and can provide real time updates and advice to farmers through text message, radio announcement and TV broadcast. To date, DFIF has trained 9,200 plant doctors across 34 countries.
Through this work over 18 million farmers across 2,800 plant clinics have been reached since 2011. The clinics have increased farmers’ yields and incomes by 13%.
Early warning systems are critical for farmers as 40% of crops globally are lost to pests and disease each year.
DFID is working in collaboration with the UK Space Agency to take this work further. The new project will be piloted in Kenya, Ghana and Zambia to use meteorological data such as ground and soil temperatures to forecast when pests or disease might occur.
This data will then be analysed by the UK’s JASMIN supercomputer at RAL Space and the forecasts can be instantly shared with plant doctors.
Penny Mordaunt, International Development Secretary, UK, commented:
“This is aid in the 21st Century. Using satellites, supercomputers and world-leading British scientists, UK aid is smarter, faster and lifting millions of people out of poverty”
Dr Graham Turnock, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency added:
“The UK has a world-leading space sector, which is playing a significant role in providing innovative, long-term solutions to problems such as those faced by farmers in sub-Saharan Africa.”
The Pest Risk Information Service (PRISE) is expected to increase the income of farmers by 5% and reduce crop losses from pests by 10%. When these are combined with existing work by plant doctors it is predicted that yields and incomes could increase by 20%.
To date, 520 plant doctors and 2,000 farmers are utilising the technology, by the end of 2021 it is thought one million farmers will benefit from these predictions.
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Image credit: DFID