Extension Specialist Joins First Plant Diagnostic Training Team in Bangladesh
By Peg Boyles, Cooperative Extension
May 21, 2008
Cheryl Smith, UNH Cooperative Extension's plant health specialist, recently
returned from a trip to Bangladesh where she served as co-instructor for a
week-long plant disease diagnosis training workshop held at Bangladesh Agricultural
University (BAU) in Mymensingh, Bangladesh.
"I've always been interested in international agriculture, sharing my
knowledge and expertise to improve the plant disease diagnostic skills in developing
nations, particularly in Asia," says Smith. "When my colleague Dr.
Robert Wick of the University of Massachusetts asked me to join him for this
first-of-its-kind training, I jumped at the chance. The plant disease diagnostic
training workshop was the first of its kind ever offered in Bangladesh, or
in Southeast Asia for that matter."
Wick and M. Bahadur Meah of BAU have collaborated as co-investigators on a
U.S. Department of Agriculture-Bangladesh cooperative research project aimed
at establishing a plant-disease diagnostic clinic at BAU, the first of its
kind for all Southeast Asia, and training faculty and staff in diagnostic techniques.
Smith says Wick and Meah hope to develop 8-10 satellite labs throughout Bangladesh,
but funding efforts to develop them and train diagnosticians to staff them
"We're all hopeful that funding efforts will be successful now that the
BAU clinic is up and running and the first group of workshop students have
been successfully trained," she says.
"Before this workshop, many Bangladeshi plant diagnosticians relied heavily
on visual identification of symptoms with little microscopic examination to
identify plant health problems," Smith says. "They haven't had the
intensive hands-on laboratory training they needed to work effectively with
microscopes and conduct laboratory tests, which provide more accurate diagnoses
and more cost-effective, environmentally sound treatments. Rob and I emphasized
the importance of making an accurate diagnosis before an appropriate treatment
can be prescribed."
Ten students from various Bangladeshi institutions, all with degrees in plant
pathology, attended the week-long intensive training. Conducted in English,
the workshop included work in clinical pathology, learning the steps to plant
diagnosis, proper care and use of microscopes, preparing slides, making culture
media, incubating samples for disease microorganisms and identifying pathogenic
fungi, bacteria and viruses.
"Working with such a small group of students gave everyone plenty of
hands-on experience," Smith says. "Several growers even brought in
samples during the workshop, giving the students (and us) a chance to tackle
some real-life samples."
A UNH professional development grant helped subsidize Smith's trip.
"I consider Rob one of the best diagnosticians in the U.S., if not the
world," Smith says. "Working with him on this workshop reinforced
and expanded my own skills. Even though the climate and many of the crops grown
in Bangladesh are different from our own, the process for identifying pathogens
is the same. What I taught and learned in Bangladesh will certainly help me
solve plant health problems in my own work at the UNH Plant Diagnostic Lab."