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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 hasn't succeeded.

"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."


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