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[ENTEBBE] Uganda has launched mobile 'plant clinics' to travel around the country diagnosing and treating outbreaks of crop pests and diseases.

The clinics comprise teams of crop specialists who visit rural areas looking out for signs of pests and diseases, and report information on them and the crops affected to the country's Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries.

The scientists study the outbreaks and how they are spreading, and prescribe control measures to farmers.

Since launching earlier this month, the first such clinic has already scored a success in the Mukono district, which supplies more than 40 per cent of Kampala's agricultural produce.

The clinic identified an outbreak of brown streak virus, which rots cassava and causes huge losses to farmers. The crop scientists were able to quickly advise farmers on ways of minimising the risk of the virus spreading.

Project leader Opolot Okasai, assistant commissioner for plant protection at the ministry, told SciDev.Net he learnt about plant clinics on a recent training course run by the Global Plant Clinic, which is managed by an international sustainable development group called CABI Bioscience.

The non-profit organisation is offering technical support to Okasai's scheme, as are several local non-governmental organisations.

According to Okasai, members of a working group on food security in Uganda led by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization were so impressed by the initiative's early results that they recommend it be replicated as soon as possible throughout Uganda.