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How the Global Plant Clinic began

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Publication date
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Focus Region:
Latin America & the Caribbean
Focus Topic:
Capacity Development
Boa, E.

Tiraque is a small town in Bolivia, about two hours from Cochabamba on the road to Santa Cruz de la Sierra. The town comes alive every Friday when a busy agricultural fair attracts many people (mostly farmers) from nearby and buyers and traders from further afield. It has a big potato market and lorry loads of onions, broad beans and other agricultural produce regularly come and go. The Tiraque fair is where the Global Plant Clinic (GPC) began to take shape. Up till then CABI had provided a ‘diagnostic and advisory service’ to developing countries, supported by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), for over thirty years. But change was needed, because DFID published a landmark policy statement on eliminating poverty in 1997; and a consensus on Millennium Development Goals appeared in 2000. The first vague thoughts were that we needed to join forces with new groups of people and be innovative or undertake ‘fresh thinking that creates new value’, to quote a pithy definition from the business world. How do you innovate? Tiraque fair on the 7 December 2001 gave suggestions on what to do. The event that heralded change was held in the back of a pickup truck and led by Juan Almanza of PROINPA (Promoci??n e Investigaci??n de Productos Andinos). The previous evening myself and Jeff Bentley, a long standing CABI associate who lives in Bolivia, had asked Juan if it was possible to give a public demonstration of a rapid diagnostic test for farmers. Jeff and I had talked for some time of bringing diagnostic and advisory services closer to farmers, but had not worked out how to do it. Juan chose a rapid diagnostic test for potato nematode cysts in soil. He was a good choice for what we later called ‘Going Public’. Well known and trusted by local farmers (though there was no guarantee that they would be at the market and there was no time for advance publicity), Juan spoke Quechua and knew many of the problems farmers faced. He understood how they farmed. Finally, he was a gifted presenter, at ease in a public place. And from this small beginning the Global Plant Clinics have spread around the world.