The inaugural PlantVillage post: Part 1

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This is the inaugural blog post for PlantVillage. So some explanation of why it has come about and the history behind the platform is needed. Humans are agriculturalists! Perhaps the most important invention our species made was the ability to grow crops. And since the beginning, knowledge of better ways to grow has spread between people. But things have changed in recent decades for a number of reasons. For the first time in our history more than half of us live in urban settings and so removed from the soil that gives us food. Increasingly food is produced in mega farms in developed countries by massive businesses. And the Agricultural research university system that developed in the 1850’s and 1860 first in Germany and then US that was designed to bring knowledge to society has largely broken down in recent years. Academics have become, well, academic. The current age we live in is the time in our history when we must feed the most people ever. And the terrorizing thing is 2 more billion people are coming to dinner quite soon. We fail now to grow as much as we can, or preserve it as we should, or ship it where it is needed. We have generations of knowledge largely funded by public money but it is not available for regular people to access either because it is pay per view or in some dense scientific language. We need to spread knowledge among people interested in growing food and have zero barriers. That is why PlantVillage. Another important reason is Disease. I have had the good fortune to travel in Africa, Australia and South America with Dr Harry Evans of CABI in the UK. Harry is one of the world’s best plant pathologists and is a walking encyclopedia with decades of information on so many plant diseases. To hear him talk is not only to discover the massive importance of plants in human history but also the threat to our future if we lose key crops like wheat, rice, rubber, cocoa and potato. As an Irish man the mere mention of potato brings to mind the devastating famine in my country that slashed the population by one quarter in a few short and bitter years. Our society has chosen not to invest in more people like Dr Evans. For sure Ag research has risen over the last 30 years but only barely and the focus has been on marginal gains on more intensive crops that will fuel cars and not people. We are losing the knowledge and so this is another role that PlantVillage will play. Everyone is walking around with a phone or will be soon. The power to link these people up so that they can not only share knowledge but act as sentinels monitoring disease is powerful, powerful, powerful. Massive diseases of our vital crops will come and we should be prepared. So, the desire to democratize the access to the world’s knowledge on food plant combined with the importance of real time disease monitoring is the reason PlantVillage has been launched. If you want to grow a few tomatoes in your backyard, improve productivity on a farm in the developed world or increase your livelihood in Sub-Saharan Africa then PlantVillage is for you. If the world wants to prevent the next famine then PlantVillage is for us all. The dream was simple. Connect people who want to grow plants to eat and get out of their way. But turning a dream into a reality is a big step and the vision was only possible with the imagination, excellence and skill of PlantVillage’s co-founder, Marcel Salathé.
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