New Plant Clinic and Farmer Knowledge Centre to Help Boost Livelihoods and Food Security in Taita Taveta County

18 June 2024, Kenya: CABI’s PlantwisePlus programme, county government of Taita Taveta and the Micro Enterprise Support Programme Trust (MESPT) have joined forces to open a new plant clinic and farmer knowledge centre to boost livelihoods and food security in Taita Taveta County, Kenya.

The facility will help smallholder farmers sustainably grow more and lose less to crop pests and diseases by adopting Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices. It follows the training of 29 new plant doctors who can diagnose plant health problems.

These trainees – of which ten were women – included those from MoonBerg Organic Farms Ltd, Taita Taveta Banana Farmers’ Cooperative Society, the County Government of Taita Taveta, and private service providers from MESPT.

Organized farmer systems in extension service provision

Recognizing the importance of incentives and organized farmer systems in extension service provision, CABI partnered with MESPT in implementing activities under the PlantwisePlus programme that also includes providing access to CABI’s digital tools.

These tools, available within the PlantwisePlus Toolkit, include the PlantwisePlus Knowledge Bank, the PlantwisePlus Factsheet Library, the CABI BioProtection Portal and online courses such as the Crop Pest Management Course.

MESPT, established by the Government of Kenya and the European Union, supports market linkages, and provides training to farmers through young business service providers (BSPs).

The BSPs provide extension services to farmers who produce conventional and organic bananas besides other value chains. They also provide extension support to farmers who are in clusters/ farmer groups.

Quality before harvesting and other agronomic practices

The young service providers offer services including farm layout and planning, de-suckering, market linkage, soil sampling, mobilizing farmers to plant tissue culture bananas, farm management for large scale producers, scouting for quality before harvesting among other agronomic practices.

These services are paid for by the farmers hence providing a source of livelihood and income to the young service providers. Taita Taveta Banana Farmers’ Cooperative and MoonBerg Organic Farms Ltd takes the bananas produced for export and local markets.

Through the PlantwisePlus programme, the collaboration between CABI, MESPT, the County Government of Taita Taveta, Moonberg and Taita Taveta Banana Farmers’ Cooperative enhances the capacity and skills of the service providers.

This includes the identification and diagnosis of plant health problems – such as infestation by the fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) pest on maize – while giving good recommendations to farmers in various value chains.

Opportunity to make a livelihood through service provision

Dr Naphis Bitange, Postdoctoral Fellow-Systems Agronomist based at CABI’s regional centre for Africa in Nairobi, said, “Using the plant clinic approach, the service providers will reach farmers in various forums in addition to giving the service providers an opportunity to make a livelihood through service provision.

“The plant clinics are expected to be mobile within the Taveta sub-county. Public extension service providers from the county government and agronomists will mentor the younger service providers. This will work towards reducing the farmer extension service provider ratio. “

The training was officially opened by Mr Mcharo Mwalugha, County Chief Officer for Agriculture, who highlighted the county government’s appreciation for the collaboration between partners that organized the event.

He thanked MESPT and CABI for spearheading the agricultural revolution in Taita Taveta, noting the positive impact on banana among other value chain farmers. Mr Mwalugha further emphasized the importance of plant doctor training in building the capacity of BSPs to become Para pathologists. He also encouraged the trainees to form service provider groups to spur development and create employment opportunities for youth.

Dr Bitange, Peter Karanja, CABI’s Assistant Training Officer, PlantwisePlus, Maureen Njenga, Research Assistant at CABI, and Abel Too, a national trainer, led the participants through the five-day training.

Meanwhile, Idah Mugambi, CABI’s Project Officer, Digital Development, introduced participants to CABI’s digital tools.

Enhancing food security and farmers’ income

Dr Bitange added, “The trainees are expected to provide advisory services to help farmers with plant health problems through plant clinics. The physical plant clinic will be stationed at the Tataba Cooperative, while mobile plant clinics will operate during farmer trainings and field days.”

The training was closed by Mr Erick Kyongo, the CEC for Agriculture, Livestock, and Blue Economy. He stated that the county government will support the trained plant doctors to ensure the smooth establishment and operation of the plant clinics.

Mr Kyongo officially launched the plant clinics and the knowledge centre, commending CABI and MESPT for their work that will play a key role in helping Taveta farmers solve plant health problems, enhancing food security and farmers’ income.

“This approach underscores the importance of strategic engagement, empowerment of young professionals, and cost-efficient service delivery in achieving the objectives of the PlantwisePlus programme while making use of existing structures and government officers to support the young service providers,” Dr Bitange said.

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