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World Food Day 2019

Healthy plants for a healthy planet

Dr Dennis Rangi

Director General, Development of Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International

Investment in agriculture is three times as effective at reducing poverty as other development interventions. Improving plant health knowledge can address many issues facing the world.

Worldwide, over 500 million smallholder farmers provide food for two-thirds of the earth’s growing population, yet these farmers themselves comprise a large proportion of the world’s food insecure.

Achieving a zero hunger world by 2030, while dealing with a growing population and the effects of climate change, is fundamentally dependent on improving farmers’ adaptation and resilience.

One of the biggest challenges leading to crop losses is farmers’ lack of plant health knowledge. Without it, they do not know what action to take to reduce crop losses.

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CABI rice farmer

Improving farmers’ plant knowledge

Arguably the best way to improve farmers’ knowledge is to invest in agricultural advisory or extension services. Extensionists help farmers build the knowledge and skills they need to become better equipped to deal with the challenges facing them.

To achieve the SDGs and feed 8.5 million people by 2030, we must first feed farmers’ minds.

Currently in Africa, a single extensionist has to serve hundreds, if not thousands, of farmers on average. The only way to reach many more farmers than is currently possible is to leverage digital platforms and innovations. Governments, policy makers and legislators therefore need to prioritise policies and funding that improve and scale up existing extension services, agricultural research and digital infrastructure.

This will, in turn, empower the private sector to build upon the digital infrastructure and data currently being piloted by research organisations and agricultural institutions – which will ultimately help farmers become more productive and resilient, as well as providing new job opportunities in SME start-ups providing products and services to the farmers.

2020: International Year of Plant Health

The United Nations has declared 2020 as the International Year of Plant Health. With global attention focused on this crucial issue at last, it is an ideal opportunity for all plant health stakeholders to come together, regardless of sector, and commit to improving farmers’ knowledge.

2020 also happens to be the tenth year of CABI’s Plantwise programme, which has reached over 30 million farmers with practical plant health information by empowering extensionists to serve their communities as ‘plant doctors’.

We focus on building extensionists’ capacity and empower them by giving them tablets and leveraging digital innovations such as remote sensing. Our digital extension-based approach has been successful in improving farmers’ productivity and incomes – as well as reducing the use of toxic pesticides.

While our approach is innovative and unique, its core is both scalable and replicable: give farmers the knowledge they need to lose less of what they grow, and they will feed more. To achieve the SDGs and feed 8.5 million people by 2030, we must first feed farmers’ minds.

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