Improving Plant Health in Papua New Guinea With Plant Doctor Training

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31 May 2024, Africa: Agriculture supports around 85% of Papua New Guinea’s rural population, with a significant number of farmers dependent on subsistence farming for their livelihoods. Improving plant health in Papua New Guinea is core to ensuring food security among the country’s inhabitants.

The importance of plant health in Papua New Guinea

Income from agriculture is a significant factor in Papua New Guinea’s economy. It provides 22% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and consists of 26% of the nation’s exports. Cash crops such as cocoa and coffee provide a vital source of income. Coconut is also a “vital resource for the livelihood of many smallholder farmers, and nearly half a million of households (ca 2.6 million people) depend on the cultivation and production of coconut in the country” (Costa et al. 2020, Biosecurity Plan for Coconut in Papua New Guinea – ©KIK).

The health of agricultural crops is not just a matter of livelihood for smallholder farmers. It is a matter of national importance. In recent years, Papua New Guinea has been grappling with the invasion of several destructive threats. These include Coconut Bogia Syndrome, Coffee Berry Borer, and Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle, Guam biotype. These invasive species have devastated key crops, underscoring the urgent need to protect the country from exotic pests and diseases.

PlantwisePlus in Papua New Guinea

Plant clinics can play a vital role in reducing smallholder farmers’ losses due to pests and diseases and are a core part of CABI’s PlantwisePlus programme. The programme aims to help farmers lose less of what they grow to pests and diseases through improved farmer outreach and support at plant clinics. At these clinics, farmers can take some of their ‘sick’ crops to trained plant doctors (under CABI training) for a diagnosis. They also receive advice on sustainable treatments to reduce the problem and loss of production on their farm.

At the national level, PlantwisePlus can help to support Papua New Guinea’s plant health system and provide early warnings for pest and disease outbreaks. As part of an island, prevention and early detection of pests and diseases can be critical to preventing the intrusion of exotic threats. This, in turn, can have devastating consequences for smallholder farmers due to crop losses. PlantwisePlus aims to support Papua New Guinea with practical and digital tools and processes to prioritize, detect, and respond to plant health problems.

As a CABI Member Country since 1975, Papua New Guinea already has a longstanding partnership with the organization. PlantwisePlus was launched in the country in 2023 to contribute to better detection and diagnosis of key pests and diseases. This, alongside partnerships with key organizations involved in Papua New Guinea’s plant health system, will further strengthen the country’s food security.

Training of trainers

Plant clinics require trained agricultural extension workers to deliver this service to farmers. However, a lack of public extension workers to reach smallholder farmers with the crop advice they need can be a common problem in many countries. This includes Papua New Guinea. Many trained agro-input dealers – another source of knowledge for farmers, lack the capacity to provide accurate diagnoses and sound crop health advice.

Plant doctor training is therefore essential to building local capacity, improving the quality of services, and ensuring sustainability among Papua New Guinea’s plant clinics.

This first PlantwisePlus plant doctor training in Papua New Guinea was successfully conducted in Lae at NARI Headquarters in October 2023. Dr Arnaud Costa, CABI PlantwisePlus Coordinator, led the training, which was attended by 14 ‘Master Trainer’ participants from key organizations.

These organizations included the National Agriculture Research Institute (NARI), the National Agriculture and Quarantine Inspection Authority (NAQIA), the Cocoa Board (CB), Kokonas Indastri Koporesen (KIK), the Coffee Industry Corporation (CIC) and Fresh Produce Development Agency (FPDA).

The training helped to equip the master trainers, who are already experts in agriculture and plant protection, with an improved set of skills to support farmers’ queries and further deliver training to new plant doctors. While challenging, this initial step is essential to establishing a network of plant clinics and doctors in the country. The new plant clinics in Papua New Guinea will launch in 2024, with support from NAQIA as a key partner.

Further engagement

Taking the initiative and driving further stakeholder engagement, CABI held a PlantwisePlus Steering Committee Meeting in December 2023. The meeting gathered 19 participants from key organizations (NARI, NAQIA, DAL, CIC, KIK, CB, FPDA) in Papua New Guinea. During this first Steering Committee Meeting, Dr Arnaud Costa presented CABI and the PlantwisePlus Programme to all participants and gave an overview of all activities achieved this year.

One key achievement of participants has been to identify new activities and areas to support the plant health system in Papua New Guinea for 2024 and beyond. The meeting explored potential collaboration in plant clinic operations and aimed to support plant health in Papua New Guinea through the PlantwisePlus programme. It provided valuable insights and potential avenues for future activities.

CABI’s suite of online resources was also demonstrated during the training. These digital advisory tools ensure essential information and learning materials are easily accessible for plant health monitoring and management.

Reflecting on the training and different meetings, Dr Arnaud Costa said: “We are delighted at how well-received the PlantwisePlus plant doctor training was by participants. There was active participation in group exercises and real-life plant clinic exercises. The success of these trainings and follow-up meetings underlines important engagement and collaboration among agricultural stakeholders is in Papua New Guinea.”

“We expect a number of awareness events to be organized in 2024 to promote the benefits of plant clinics and ensure they are run with the support of local partners. With a dedicated team, supported by our CABI Associate Dr Lastus Kuniata, we look forward to building towards a resilient and thriving plant health system in Papua New Guinea.”

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