Scot Nelson shows his Plant Doctor app, which was used to alert him to the coffee
virus displayed on his screen.
great about Extension work is it extends both ways. One recent example of this
synergy was the discovery and mapping of a new coffee pest, an emaravirus that
potentially makes coffee cherries unmarketable. The coffee disease, not known
to exist elsewhere, was first reported in January 2014 by a coffee farmer in
Kona, using the Plant Doctor app developed by plant pathologist Scot Nelson.
Originally created in 2009, the app was re-launched in 2012 to provide
completely free diagnoses, and a Spanish-language option was added in 2014.
Last year, diagnoses were provided for users in 42 states and 35 countries.
Pic-a-Papaya app guides users through taking and sending pictures of
agent Andrea Kawabata, who’s been helping coffee farmers deal with another
pest, the coffee berry borer, and researcher Mike Melzer followed up with the
farmer who first reported the disease. Dr. Melzer identified the virus
associated with the symptoms, but much remains to be discovered. Members of the
community can help them learn more, particularly about the pest’s geographic
range. After visiting the website Dr. Nelson created to depict the disease
symptoms, growers can contact him via his Plant Doctor app or at
firstname.lastname@example.org, or Ms. Kawabata at email@example.com.
digital image submission process is similar to that of another app created by
Drs. Nelson and Richard Manshardt, dubbed “Pic-a-Papaya.” It asks the general
populace to photograph papaya plants for diagnosis of symptoms caused by the
devastating ringspot virus. When they use the app to send photos of the
affected plants to the scientists, they’ll help them map the extent of the
disease—and combat it, because in return the users can request free papaya
seeds to replace the diseased plants. Participants can also submit leaf tissue
samples to test for GMO status and receive free non- genetically engineered
seeds to replace them.
While the Hawaii Department
of Agriculture (HDOA) plans to survey the farms in the Kona area to determine
the spread of the new coffee virus, this will take time, time that may better
be spent actively working towards control. “We can’t just use a top-down
approach anymore,” explained Dr. Nelson. “The HDOA is our boots on the ground,
but how long will it take for their agents to drive to every farm and walk
around it to spot the virus? The farmers need to get involved.” And these
technological tools are allowing them to do just that.