Three years ago, Koppert Foundation and CABI* got together to develop a curriculum to train 'Plant Doctors' about Integrated Pest Management and relevant aspects of biological control of pests and diseases. Some 51 Plant Doctors attended the Plantwise courses held respectively in Eldoret and Nakuru in Kenya. During the two-day training sessions participants were introduced to key aspects of IPM and the important natural enemy groups. Conservation of naturally existing beneficial insects was also a key topic during the training.
'As a company, we believe in our approach to crop protection – working sustainably with nature,' says General Manager at Koppert Kenya, Charles Macharia. 'The Plant Doctor training programmes are excellent as an introduction to biological control, but even together with CABI, we can only reach so many farmers. To improve our reach, we need to build bigger and more effective networks to include a growing number of partners.'
During the sessions, the unwanted effects of inorganic pesticides on ecosystems and particularly natural enemies were highlighted. The trainees also got to hear about the laws and regulations that the Kenyan government has put in place to control the misuse of pesticides and other chemicals in terms of the environment, biodiversity, and food safety.
'All of the Plant Doctor trainees are extension officers from the Ministry of Agriculture as they work closely with farmers in the field,' Charles explains. They are recruited and trained by CABI, and we at Koppert were able to incorporate an important component of Integrated Pest Management into this curriculum in collaboration with CABI. Once you manage to convince the extension officers about the efficacy of IPM, they take that message out there to the farmers themselves.' More recently, farmers have been showing a good deal of interest in using IPM to combat Tuta Absoluta or tomato leaf miner that is proving difficult to control. Tomato is an important vegetable in Africa and its production has socio-economic significance on this continent.
'There is a growing consciousness in Kenya's middle class about food safety and produce needs to be safe to eat locally, but also for export purposes,' Charles affirms.
Koppert India and CABI develop training course
Trained Plant Doctors from NGOs in Southern India have also been introduced to biological solutions in the field through a course developed by CABI and the Koppert Foundation. The course gives local farmers a better understanding of the non-target effects of chemical pesticides on the environment while offering biological control alternatives for existing problems in horticulture and agriculture.
In India, most farmers continue to use chemical solutions to combat pests and diseases. 'There is a great deal of work to be done in terms of introducing our beneficial insects, botanical and microbiological solutions on this continent,' says Technical Manager at Koppert India, Mahesh Kumar. 'The 3-day training courses get NGOs acquainted with new sustainable approaches to cultivation that have been developed with the interests of smallholder farmers in mind.' The last training course offered to a number of Indian NGOs took place in Trichy, Southern India, last year. 'In order to change the farmers' mindset from chemicals to biologicals, there will need to be follow-up courses, more trials and demonstrations,' Mahesh adds.
In order to reach the local farmers, Koppert India is working with several NGOs including the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation, the National Agro Foundation, the Syngenta Foundation, the Voluntary Association for People Service and the Agro TIE. All these NGOs promote biological solutions for agriculture and horticulture. CABI's Dr Manfred and Dr Malvika attended the training course to share their skills as 'plant doctors.' More than 20 people attended the course.
A greater reach via the internet
The COVID-19 pandemic has meant that many farmers have had to be reached through the internet. 'It seems that the pandemic has finally persuaded farmers to join the internet and this has given our networking capability an enormous boost,' says Mahesh.
Training curriculum now available worldwide
The course curriculum and training materials are now available for a wider public. They can be downloaded from the CABI Academy platform (https://academy.cabi.org). Once registered, you will have direct access to the programme to get an idea of the content. Koppert and CABI employees have direct access to all related documents. Others will be connected to an experienced CABI IPM-trainer who will ask some additional questions to make sure you will be able to execute the training appropriately.
*CABI is an international, inter-governmental, not-for-profit organization that improves people's lives worldwide by providing information and applying scientific expertise to solve problems in agriculture and the environment. Their approach involves putting information, skills and tools into people's hands.