The so-called fighting fungus, Trichoderma, is great at eating “bad” fungi as well as promoting plant growth. For developing countries where crop pests and diseases are a major problem, Trichoderma is a vital tool. But not all farmers, scientists, and policymakers know it exists.

To help spread awareness, Virginia Tech’s Feed the Future Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab previously held five Trichoderma workshops in Asia and Africa. Recently, it added a sixth at the Royal University of Agriculture in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

The 40 Cambodia workshop participants learned how Trichoderma works, how to identify it, how to turn its production into a business, and how to incorporate its important disease-fighting benefits into their agricultural practices.

Instructor S. Nakkeeran, a plant pathologist from Tamil Nadu Agricultural University in India, said, “Most farmers everywhere go for intensive cultivation of crops." But intensive cultivation leads to indiscriminate application of pesticides, which end up as residue on food. "We consume these pesticides. Trichoderma, which is a biocontrol agent found to be present in soil, can be used for pest management instead.”

In the field, workshop participants pulled a maize plant, an okra plant, and a rice plant from the roots to gather soil samples. This step led to their own cultivation of Trichoderma in the lab, enabling them to take samples home after the university-based workshop.

One participant, Kang Savang, an agronomist at the Innovation Lab’s partner, iDE, was skeptical about Trichoderma when he began the workshop, but his doubt was gone by the end of the week.

“Before, I thought that using Trichoderma was a waste of money,” Savang sayid.

What convinced him was hearing the success stories.

"Trichoderma is not only to help seedlings develop a better root system or to prevent damping off, but it can also be used as a plant-growth promoter, and it is also a very good biocontrol agent to kill other pests," he said.

Kean Sophea, who had attended a workshop in Nepal, now owns his own small business producing the fungus. Other participants discussed their plans to take similar steps to make Trichoderma widely available throughout Cambodia.

The Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab, directed by Muni Muniappan, is a project of the Office of International Research, Education, and Development, part of Outreach and International Affairs.

Written by Stephanie Parker

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