Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Diagnosis, please

As in medicine, correctly diagnosing the problem is a critical first step in IPM. A farmer who unknowingly plants diseased tomato seedlings in her field, has a crop doomed to an early death or poor yield. Unfortunately, since many plant diseases are initially undetectable to the human eye, this situation is all too common in Central Asia.

In the past 20 years, molecular techniques have revolutionized pest diagnosis in the developed world. Unfortunately, this progress coincided with the collapse of the Soviet Union and severe economic limitations for the new Central Asian republics. As a result, many of these molecular techniques are unavailable in the region.

A key part of our trip was to hold a two-day pest diagnostic training workshop which was largely organized by Dr. Sally Miller (the Ohio State University), a plant pathologist who has worked on diagnosis of plant diseases in a several international settings. Sally was assisted by the IPM CRSP team and by Dr. Barry Jacobson (Montana State University), also an international expert in disease diagnosis. Students at the workshop learned how to couple modern molecular techniques with classical symptom-based diagnosis. The result means more rapid and accurate detection leading to the right course of action and – most importantly – more food and income for Central Asian farmers.