The ability to diagnose emerging pest and diseases affecting horticulture crops in Samoa are being strengthened through the training of a core group of plant doctors who will establish plant health clinics to help farmers with environmentally-friendly methods to treat affected crops.
Funded by the Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research (ACIAR), and in partnership with Samoa’s Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF), Land Resources Division of the Pacific Community (SPC), the University of Queensland and Fiji Ministry of Agriculture, the National Plant Health Clinic Training took place at Samoa’s Upolu and Savaii islands in November.
The training includes the use of a number of innovative tools and specifically designed technology for easy access for trainers and farmers to the training manuals, the use of the Pacific Pest and Pathogens App for mobile devices, PestNet App, a global plant health advisory network, Samoa Plant Doctor Network on WhatsApp and factsheets on Pacific-related health issues.
The two-week training was attended by 31 Samoans in agricultural leadership roles, including 13 women who are now equipped to serve the agriculture sector as plant doctors and pass on their acquired knowledge as trainer by conducting plant health clinics in farming communities throughout Samoa.
Dr Mike Furlong from University of Queensland’s Biological Sciences, said that while the concept of plant health clinics is relatively new in agricultural extension in the region, the approach is similar to human health clinics.
“Essentially, farmers bring their damaged crop plants to a plant health clinic where trained ‘plant doctors’ diagnose the problem and provide the farmers with a written ‘prescription’ that gives advice on how the problem, which may be due to disease, insect attack or nutritional issues can be tackled,” Dr Furlong said.
ACIAR’s Research Program Manager for Horticulture, Irene Kernot added that helping farmers to recognize pests, diseases and an understanding of how they can be managed is fundamental to good farming and provides the front-line defence for a country’s biosecurity system.
“The best surveillance system is the farmer who walks their crop every day and is the first to notice anything new. The plant health clinics program is a vital step towards ensuring long-term food security through better understanding threats to regional agriculture.” Ms Kernot said.
Refresher trainings will follow in early December 2019, with more plant health clinics planned for both Upolu and Savaii Islands.
Similar plant health clinic trainings have been supported by ACIAR in Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Tonga.