Women Plant Doctors 2.0 - Competition „Empowerment of women through digital solutions“ 

Women Plant Doctors

In Tunisian rural areas women traditionally play a key role in agriculture: they provide the majority of the agricultural labour force and are engaged in all productive tasks. More and more (young) men are seeking work in urban areas. Female farmers are often the de facto household leaders and decision-makers. However, their productivity levels are low. 15 – 30% of their annual crop is lost by plant diseases, weeds and pests. This is mainly explained by women’s lack of technical knowledge and weak access to information, training and advisory services. Especially young women in rural areas, trained or untrained, have very few job and income opportunities.

Women Plant Doctors

Women Plant DoctorsThe two GIZ programs „Promoting Sustainable Agriculture and Rural development (PAD)“ and the „Green Innovation Center (IAAA)“ in Tunisia jointly implement a PPP measure with two ICT start-ups (German PEAT and Tunisian RGT) to support especially female smallholder farmers to gain access to information and expert knowledge about plant diseases. The idea is to adapt the existing German smartphone-app “Plantix” to the Tunisian context, crops as well as the specific needs of female farmers in Tunisia. Plantix can recognize plant diseases via the smartphone camera and provides information on (organic and conventional) treatment and prevention measures. The app will thus help to increase agricultural productivity, prevent harvest failures and reduce food losses. Additionally, young female agricultural experts in rural areas will be equipped with smartphones and trained technically and economically to work as local service providers – the women plant doctors – helping them to find new job and income opportunities by bringing required information on plant diseases to female farmers.

This measure is one of the winning contributions of the GIZ-competition "Empowerment of women through digital solutions".

Progress reports on the implementation will be published here in due course.

Progress report June 2017

The project idea, including the adaptation of the app Plantix and the training of the young plant doctors, was widely presented to partners in the ministry as well as students, governmental structures, farmers, and cooperatives in the field. It received a warm welcome and positive feedback as it is perceived as an innovative tool and approach that will help small holder farmers, cooperatives and extensionists in their daily work.

A list of selection criteria was established and a call for participation launched through various channels as local radios, social networks, online media, and local authorities and job centers. It created a big echo and around 400 young professionals heeded the call to participate in the project. In total 70 future plant doctors were selected according to their professional agriculture background, motivation and region of origin with an overall female share of more than 60%. Afterwards all selected young professionals were invited to 6 days of training organized by the local NGO AID with Tunisian plant-experts. The training focused on technical aspects regarding plant diseases, treatment and prevention measures as well as the App Plantix and how to collect the required images to adapt the App to the local context.

The training provides the future plant doctors with profound information on the most common local plant diseases that most frequently infest the six selected crops the project is focusing on (apricots, pasticcio, olives, tomatoes, red pepper and potatoes – dominant crops in Tunisian with importance for small holder farmers, especially women). Afterwards the participants were instructed how and at what stage these diseases should be treated to prevent crop losses, emphasizing the usage of organic treatments as they are less harmful for the environment and the health of both farmers and consumers. After the training, the plant doctors received their new smartphone from the project that will help them to collect the images of diseases plants and send them to the app.

One of the first tasks of the plant doctors will now be to liaise with their neighbors, rural community and local cooperatives in order to regularly undertake field visits to collect each 500 pictures per month of identified diseased plants. Thus, they will not only familiarize themselves with the different forms and gradations of the diseases found in nature but foremost support the process of building a huge picture data base for the Tunisian Plantix version which is necessary to later enable the application to precisely recognize a disease by a simple picture and propose the right treatment options.

Currently the interface and content of Plantix is being translated into the Tunisian Arabic dialect and French language, new content of crops and diseases not present yet (such as olives and pistachio) is developed and around 10.000 pictures of plant diseases have already been collected by the local partner RGT.

Progress report October 2017

The project entered into its concrete phase concerning the data / picture collection for feeding the Plantix algorithm to develop an adapted Tunisian version of the application. Since August, the young plant doctors have been collecting a minimum of 500 pictures of diseased plants per month per participant. In total more than 80.000 pictures have been collected so far. The uploaded pictures are frequently monitored by the PPP partners PEAT and RGT in terms of quality and classification to guarantee a high quality data base. Additional support in form of a daily exchange (Facebook, Plantix Forum etc.) was provided in order to address technical questions of the young professionals. Field days with experts from RGT and PEAT as well as the ministry and higher education further increased the technical knowledge of the plant doctors as well as their connections to the farming communities.

A national network and community of the plant doctors was created and is being supported via several activities, meetings, communication material, operational plan, coaching, voting of a steering committee etc.
This network was named “PlantMed – réseau des jeunes médecines des plantes en Tunisie”, and constitutes the first ever network of young plant doctors in Tunisia. 
The network is well integrated into the professional environment and integrates experts from science, education, ministry and the private sector. Special focus is on the female plant doctors and their cooperation. Thus, a special event was held with female experts, farmers and role models to learn about the needs and demands of female farmers, how to increase their access to Plantix via the plant doctors as well as how to become a successful female entrepreneur in the agricultural sector.

The application Plantix and the PlantMed network were presented and promoted in various events and conferences (attended by the minister of agriculture) as well as at the SIAMAP fair in Tunis, the largest trade fair for agriculture, machinery and fishing in Africa with 200.000 visitors. Plantix and the PlantMed network created a lot of interest and noise in Tunisia. During the trade fair more than 300 downloads of the application were registered and the young plant doctors were able to directly get in contact with potential future customers. The fair was a great opportunity to advertise the PlantMed through an own stand, distributing business cards and by demonstrating the precise and fast functionality of the app in practice as well as a competition.
In addition, the plant doctors received training to improve their business and entrepreneurship skills via BUS-trainings, and developed initial ideas for creating their own project and agri-service start-up based on Plantix. To enable the plant doctors to pursue these first vague ideas, a coaching cycle is being developed and set up, integrating soft skills, business model and business plan development.

As the network and the application develop and expand, several institutions and organisations as well as other rural youth show considerable interest in partnering and participating.

For further information about any of the projects mentioned here, please contact us at gender@giz.de.