The St Andrews Prize for the Environment

University of St Andrews


23 April 2018

An update from 2017 Winner Plantwise

An update from 2017 Winner Plantwise

Even after being named as a finalist for the St Andrews Prize for the Environment 2017, Dr Washington Otieno from Plantwise was still surprised to be announced as the eventual winner of the Prize.

Plantwise is a global programme which provides smallholder farmers with the knowledge they need to lose less of their produce to pests and disease. Establishing local plant clinics and the online Plantwise Knowledge Bank, the organisation are working hard to achieve their goal of reaching 30 million farmers by 2020.

“We were extremely honoured to have been shortlisted as a finalist for the St Andrews Prize for the Environment, especially because we were aware that there were hundreds of entries and the process was very competitive.

“Despite being in the final three, it was still a surprise to be announced as the winner of the St Andrews Prize for the Environment. Over the two days in St Andrews, we had the opportunity to meet the other finalists who were strong contenders. I was, and am still, delighted that the environmental contributions of Plantwise received such strong recognition from an international panel of environmental experts.”

This recognition from the distinguished panel was just the tip of the iceberg for Plantwise, who also secured $100,000 of funding for the organisation.

“Winning the St Andrews Prize for the Environment has enabled us to fund the rollout of tablet computers to over 300 plant clinics, greatly increasing the quantity and speed of collection of data from plant clinics, thereby making it increasingly possible to apply the Plantwise approach in solving plant health problems at production on a near real-time basis.

“It enhanced information exchange amongst extension officers especially through the use of social platforms (linking both in-country and external experts) associated with the tablets such as Whatsapp and Telegram, resulting in rapid diagnosis and prompt action on plant health issues.

“The other crucial benefit is the international recognition the Prize has bestowed upon us. We consider it a stamp of approval for Plantwise processes in managing agricultural production in an environmentally sustainable way. This has made a big difference in securing new partnerships for Plantwise implementation with new collaborators both within countries and also with other ICT driven initiatives servicing the needs of small holder farmers in developing countries.”

With such strong growth following their win, Plantwise now continues its journey to provide even more knowledge to even more people around the globe.

“In the last year, we have reached 8.5 million farmers, compared to 5.3 million the previous year. We trained 2,422 new plant doctors across 18 countries, 563 of them on the use of ICT tools and applications, resulting in the establishment of 314 new e-plant clinics (plant clinics equipped with tablet computes) out of a total of 550 across 14 countries. The use of tablets has greatly increased the quantity and speed of data collection. During the year, Plantwise also published 524 new factsheets and Pest Management Decision Guides (PMDGs). Based on feedback from our donors and the St Andrews Prize Trustees, we have rolled out a new methodology to gather evidence of outcomes and the impact of Plantwise in which the use of ICT tools and applications is a key indicator of performance of the programme.

“Plantwise is currently donor-funded but is moving towards a sustainable model where each country funds and manages its own plant clinics, data management and administrative tasks. To this end we’re exploring links with the private sector organizations such as commodity-based enterprises, farmer producer companies and agro-input suppliers to see how plant clinic services can become self-sustaining while still ensuring eco-friendly solutions to plant health problems. We are also investing in new ICT innovations, such as the Pest Risk Information Service (PRISE), currently being piloted in Ghana, Kenya and Zambia, which uses earth observations data, pest modelling algorithms, and on-the-ground observations (including plant clinic data) in pest forecasting across geographical locations to manage pest risks thereby enabling farmers to take preventive measures.”

Though Plantwise has seen significant benefits from entering, and winning, the Prize, Dr Otieno would strongly advise entrants to do their research and consider not only the opportunities their projects can bring, but also the challenges. 

“Being questioned by the St Andrews Prize Trustees was like a job interview! My advice to finalists is to do their homework, acknowledge weaknesses in their projects and think about what they are doing to mitigate them.”

Find out more about the project here.