Washington, June 21 : Southeast Asia's first plant disease clinic has been opened in Bangladesh, which would help the country's farmers in battling outbreaks of leaf blight and insect pests.
The clinic is housed at the Bangladesh Agricultural University in Mymensingh, under the direction of co-founder M. Bahadur Meah.
According to Robert Wick, a professor of plant pathology who secured funding for the clinic from the U.S.D.A. Foreign Agricultural Service, Bangladesh claimed to be self-sufficient in 2005, but unexpected losses due to pests and weather have kept farmers from producing enough food to satisfy demand.
Rice has been especially hard-hit, forcing the government to import this staple crop, which is eaten daily by most Bangladeshi.
A significant part of the problem is that an estimated 20 percent of the crops grown in Bangladesh are lost to insect pests and diseases before they reach the table. hough increasing the amount of land used for agriculture has been suggested as a possible solution, it won't solve the problem.
"Most of the arable land is already under crop production, and in some cases, a single plot of land produces up to three crops each year," said Wick. "Increases in food production will come from using high-yield cultivars and the management of pests and weeds," he added.
Through the clinic, farmers and extension agents finally have a way to positively identify hundreds of plant diseases caused by microorganisms, instead of relying on visual inspections, which are often inaccurate.
Farmers will be able to bring plant samples to the clinic, and the staff will use culturing techniques and microscopes to identify which fungus, bacteria or virus is causing the problem.
The clinic will also identify insect pests, and provide information on nutrient deficiencies and their causes.
After receiving a diagnosis, farmers will be advised on the best management practices for controlling their particular problem, which will protect their health and the health of the environment by reducing pesticide use.
"Right now, farmers in Bangladesh believe that a prescription for pesticides will solve their crop problems, but this won't help if the damage stems from bacteria or a plant virus," said Wick.
"At the clinic, they will be told how to manage crops in an environmentally friendly way, using cultural methods like weeding, rotating crops and trapping pests," he added.
The clinic can also provide a quality control center for certifying that plants for export are free of pathogens, identify important or emerging problems that require investigation, and develop a historic record of the occurrence of plant diseases.
Eventually, the team hopes to establish clinics in each of the six districts of Bangladesh.