Makerere Launches training program for Plant doctors and nurses.

Makerere University College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES) has launched a training program for plant doctors  starting with the current Undergraduate BSc Agriculture students on Recess term training at the University Research Institute at Kabanyolo. The initiative funded by donor funds is spearheaded by CABI through Plantwise - a global initiative that helps countries develop a sustainable national plant health system.

                                 Participants pose for  a group photo after the launch


The program was launched by the Ag. Principal CAES represented by the Dean School of Agricultural Sciences Prof. Johnny Mugisha on July 3rd 2013, at the Continuing Agricultural Education Centre (CAEC). The function was attended by officials from the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF), the National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) and representatives from CABI and Plantwise.

The day’s activities included student demonstrations of the activities undertaken by plant doctors such as diagnosing plant diseases and pests, the skill set and challenges of operating a plant clinic, guiding and handling of farmers

 Students demonstrate diagnostic skills and how to operate a plant clinic

Presiding over the inauguration as College Principal and   Dean School of Agricultural Sciences, Prof. Johnny Mugisha welcomed the initiative as good strategy for curbing pests and disease pledging the college and school commitment to work with all the partners.

He told participants that the plant doctors training will be delivered in two modules where students will be equipped with practical skills in running plant clinics and offering practical recommendations. He advised students to be ethical and mind their economics while diagnosing pests and diseases.  

“In human medicine, patients look for doctors. For you, your patients are plants which do not talk or move and are cared for by farmers. That is why you will become superior to veterinary and human doctors. Please apply your economics in plant doctoring. Don’t recommend a solution that will take away all the money that a farmer has. Ethically don’t pray that a disease or pest should hit a place”, Prof. Mugisha advised and thanked all stakeholders for initiating the training and the coordinating the launch.

  Dean School of Agricultural Sciences  Prof. Johnny Mugisha (standing) speaking during the launch

The Assistant Commissioner Crop Protection from the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, Robert Karyeija thanked the University for realizing the country’s need for human resources to tackle the challenge of pests and diseases saying, the country was at the verge of losing money from the export of major crops such as coffee and bananas.

“The ministry is interested in detection of pests and diseases as early as possible before it becomes an epidemic. Uganda has 112 districts applying for plant clinics. We are happy that you have come and there is need to expand plant clinics. This training will make you enter the job market because every district will require at least two plant doctors.” Dr. Karyeija described the students as a lucky group.

He enumerated key challenges in crop protection including poor coverage and packaging of information, transport and movement of samples from plant clinics and complaints from the agricultural sector on the attitude of young graduates who only want top management post instead of going through the system and gradually climb the ladder.

Dr. Karyeija implored students to understand that through patience they can improve and advance further adding that plant clinics require people who can tell right from the field what farmers’ challenges are before laboratory work.

Assist. Commissioner Crop Protection MAAIF, Dr. Robert Karyieja  speaking on the role of  plant clinics in control of pest epidemics

He further told the participants to take care and   treat information on plant clinics as sensitive citing Uganda’s recent experience after the release of a report that negatively impacted on her exports.

“A few years back we lost market for bananas to South Africa. Also recently, USA closed our market for solar dried fruits because there was a report of the disease incidence in the country and when they looked at the fruits they found the maggots and closed the market”. The commissioner cautioned.

He however said Uganda still had chances of market in areas like Saudi Arabia. He expressed optimism that the initiation of training of plant doctors at the University will help address such challenges.

“The ministry is happy that young people are injected into the system to advise on pests and diseases and I want to thank the University officials for accepting plant clinics to be integrated into the curriculum.  What was missing in Uganda are young graduates interested in the fight against pests and diseases and the sooner they start liking the training, the better for the country’s agricultural productivity”. Dr. Karyeija stated.

The Country coordinator CABI for Plantwise Dr. Joseph Mulema said Plantwise is supporting the strengthening of plant health system by encouraging partnership among key agricultural sector institution in extension, research, regulation and the private sector with plant clinics as entry points.

 “The initiative mainly targets strengthening linkages among stake holders in a plant health system in the agricultural sector and its ultimate objective is to ensure that at least  by 2015 a million of farmers will have access to the information that they need to produce more and loose less” , Dr.  Mulema told the participants.

     Dr. Robert Mulema  giving a global initiative  on plant clinics

This system involves farmers as a major stakeholder, research to generate new information from farmers, extension which is supposed to disseminate information which farmers can use, regulators who are supposed to protect the boundaries of the country from entry of pests, agro dealers who are supposed to provide inputs that farmers need to produce and Universities which train research officers and extension.

He said in order to meet the increasing demand for human resources to run plant clinics, Makerere University has been chosen as a pioneer institution for the institutionalization of training under three initiatives.

“The first initiative is equipping undergraduate students with practical skills in running plant clinics and offering good recommendations for pest management; the second initiative will involve training in-service extension agents through a certificate course offered at CAES while the third initiative will be the integration of plant doctor training into the curriculum under various programs offered at CAES”.

He said information generated from interaction from farmers will be entered into a prescription and record book so that it can be used for research, extension and regulation  based on diseases prevalence in certain localities as a  source of surveillance, or tool of where the disease can be identified. It can be used by Universities to train and breed new disease and pest resistant varieties.

Dr. Mulema also said discussions had been made with Makerere University to see how to integrate this training into the University.

“We have started with the recess term training of students on how to become a plant doctor and we are planning an in-service training where Makerere University will accredit a doctor training to be offered to extension staff in different organizations. We are also working on the integration of this training into the curriculum so that each student who goes through CAES can have an opportunity to learn about Plantwise”.

A section of BSc. Agriculture students during the launch. Over 90 students are undertaking the course

 Dr. Mulema said the in-service program is going to be through a consultative process where Makerere will consult with key stakeholders   like local government, NGOs Farmer Federations; community based organizations so that they can jointly move this forward. Consultations will also be prepared with the academia such as Gulu, Busitema and  Nkozi Universities and agricultural colleges like Bukalasa that are involved in training extension officers so that  in-service training  can be accredited by Makerere university and given by any other agricultural institution.

A plant clinic is developed on the theory of a healthy system where hospitals are for humans, garages for vehicles.  So if animals can go to a clinic, plants which cannot talk or seek for medication will be visited and serviced by Plant doctors and nurses. The plant clinics will identify key problems for analyses, do massive extension campaigns. Therefore   through capacity building among extension officers, farmers will direct or indirectly be helped and advised how they can address problems of pests and diseases in their localities.

Some of the Mak staff (R) is  the Course Coordinator CAES - Dr Mildred Ochwo

Under the strategic plan of the GoU, Plant clinics will be established in every sub county. Through the partnership withPlantwise initiative of CABI and MAAIF. CAES has been and continues to play an active role in monitoring and evaluation of plant clinics. The plant diagnostic laboratory at the School of Agricultural Sciences also provides technical backstopping in pest and disease identification.