Burkina Faso: The (plant) doctor is in (Trust)

| April 25, 2016

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Dieudonné Sedogo waits patiently in line to see the doctor. Mr. Sedogo lives in the village of Tamissi, 65 kilometres northeast of Ougadougou, the capital city of Burkina Faso.

But he isn’t visiting the doctor to ask questions about his health, or the health of a family member.

He is seeking answers as to why his eggplant is wrinkled and has yellow leaves. And he has brought the plant along.

Mr. Sedogo explains, “Every year during the dry season I have the same problem.” He has been farming for 15 years, and every year his eggplants become as dry as raisins. As a result, much of his harvest goes to waste.

Today, two “plant doctors” have set up a one-day clinic in Tamissi to answer farmers’ questions. Maurice Albert and Rihanata Sawadogo are agricultural extension agents who have been trained to diagnose a variety of problems in local plants.

The plant doctors ask Mr. Sedogo questions to better understand his problem: Has he changed the crops he is planting? Or where he plants his eggplants? What fertilizers does he use?

Ms. Sawadogo examines the eggplant under a microscope, while Mr. Albert takes careful notes.

Their diagnosis: Insects, most likely spider mites, are responsible for Mr. Sedogo’s ailing crop. Unfortunately, this pest is resistant to many chemical insecticides.

They also offer a prescription: a natural, environmentally friendly pesticide to be applied twice a week.

The plant doctors advise Mr. Sedogo to grow a wider variety of crops and to plant them in new areas every season. They also recommend that Mr. Sedogo tell his neighbours to bring in samples of their own crops for a consultation. Otherwise, the infestation might return.

Ms. Sawadogo and Mr. Albert bring their expertise to village markets across Ganzourgou Province as part of a project supported by the Burkina Faso Ministry of Agriculture and the German NGO, Welthungerhilfe. Plant doctors are working in other African countries as well, including Uganda, to help farmers identify why their crops are failing.

The pair are proud of their training and the work they do. Mr. Albert says, “I think of myself as a real doctor…. I diagnose illnesses and prescribe treatment to cure plants, which ultimately improves people’s food security.”

The doctors see an average of 20 farmers a day, and most return for a follow-up consultation.

But many farmers in this area face challenges that the doctors cannot address. More frequent and increasingly long droughts are affecting harvests. The dry season traditionally lasted from mid-February to June, but now extends into July and August. Delayed rainfall means delayed planting.

The plant doctors are part of the government’s effort to address the drought at the local level. Maurice Traoré is the deputy minister for vegetable production. He says, “My hope is that we ultimately create a collaboration at the village level, rather than perpetuate a top-down approach relying on subsidies only.”

Mr. Sedogo is satisfied with the advice he received from the plant doctors, although he faces other issues that affect his harvest. He needs inputs and labourers if he wants to expand his farm.

He explains, “I don’t have enough water or fertilizers. And I’m on my own in the field. My kids can’t help because I want them to go to school.”

To read the full article on which this story is based, In drought-hit Burkina Faso, the (plant) doctor is in, go to: http://news.trust.org/item/20160407110018-xit07/?source=hpDontmiss

Photo: Farmers, including Dieudonné Sedogo (far right), wait for “plant doctors” to examine their damaged crops in the village of Tamissi, Burkina Faso, on 1 April 2016. Credit: TRF/Zoe Tabary