Pollution from the overuse of pesticides threatens humans and animal species in the region of the Prespa Lake Basin in Resen, Macedonia. In response, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) worked with farmers in the area to adopt environmentally-friendly practices by setting up a system to monitor pests and diseases, but a lack of local media made it hard to communicate quickly with farmers. In this installment of Digital Diversity, we learn how Facebook and mobile technology turned out to be the answer.
Digital Diversity is a series of blog posts from kiwanja.net featuring the many ways mobile phones and other appropriate technologies are being used throughout the world to improve, enrich, and empower billions of lives. This article was curated by Gabrielle LePore, our Media and Research Assistant. You can follow Gabrielle on Twitter at @GabrielleLePore and kiwanja.net at @kiwanja
By staff at the UNDP office in Skopje
“This is the one everyone knows from cartoons – the little worm in the apple,” says Eftim Petkovski, scooping the larva of a codling moth from an apple in his orchard in Resen. “But it’s no joke, I can tell you – if we farmers don’t spray for them early on, all our livelihoods are at risk.”
“Timing is everything with these pests. You’ve got to predict their migrations – and that can be a matter of hours. Spraying too early or too late is much less effective and a lot more expensive because you need bigger amounts – often as much as three times the quantity. And you can guess what that does to the environment.”
Overuse of pesticides amongst orchard farmers in Resen has been proven to be a major cause of pollution in the beautiful but environmentally vulnerable region of the Prespa Lake Basin, threatening the habitat of over 2,000 species of birds, fish and mammals, including many endangered animals unique to Prespa.
UNDP has been working in close cooperation with the Municipality of Resen in recent years (with funding from the Global Environment Facility and the Swiss Development Cooperation), on projects to raise awareness of the dangers of pesticides and to help local farmers adopt more environmentally-sustainable agricultural practices. These efforts have already led to a 30 percent reduction in the amount of pesticides used by local farmers each season – good news for the environment and savings for farmers. “The way we dealt with pests before was wasteful,” says Mr. Petkovski. “And a lot of that could be put down to farmers’ lack of awareness.”
“But that’s not the whole story – the problem of knowing the best time to spray is a problem faced by all farmers. It’s about the speed of notification and that’s in many ways a technical problem needing a technical solution.”
In response, the Municipality of Resen and UNDP set up a system to monitor pests and diseases in 2005, installing six solar-powered agro-meteorological monitoring stations and a number of insect pheromone traps. The monitoring stations gathered all the necessary data, but the problem remained: How to get that data directly to farmers as quickly as possible. There’s no local media in Resen, so for the past seven years all they had to rely on were paper flyers posted in the square – not an adequate system for updating farmers.
“To make the system sustainable, we knew we needed to find an inexpensive solution,” said UNDP’s Dimitrija Sekovski. “And that’s what we came up with – an innovative way of notifying farmers that cost less than $1,000 to develop.”
Walking between the apple trees in his orchard, Mr. Petkovski pulls up the messages on his mobile phone. “Here’s the SMS we received about the codling moth on Friday,” he says:
Apple trees in the area of the village of Rajca have been infected by the codling moth. The apple trees should be treated in the next 10 days. For more info, visit the Facebook page or call the Association of Farmers.
“That message went out to every farmer in the village of Rajca whose name is registered with the local Association of Farmers,” says Mr. Petkovski. “And that’s how we were able to spray before the moths had a chance to spread. Just knowing that in time has saved a lot of our fruit.”
The SMS system was developed by the Faculty of Computer Science at the University of Cyril & Methodius in Skopje, with UNDP support. The same pest control expert who sends SMS updates to farmers also updates a Farmers’ Association page on Facebook, to help get the word out even further. The new system is part of a six-year project to restore and protect Prespa Lake, funded by the Swiss Development Cooperation.
Low costs and simplicity of implementation make this system highly suitable for replication in other municipalities across the country.
What’s next? The team here are now thinking about adding another layer to the system. One of the ideas is to ‘gamify‘ the notifications to farmers. Do you think this could work? Are there any similar examples out there? Do you have any other suggestions?
This post originally appeared on the UNDP website and has been republished by permission. You can read the original post here.
Digital Diversity is produced by Ken Banks, innovator, mentor, anthropologist, National Geographic Emerging Explorer and Founder of kiwanja.net, FrontlineSMS and Means of Exchange. He shares exciting stories in “Digital Diversity” about how mobile phones and appropriate technologies are being used throughout the world to improve, enrich, and empower billions of lives. You can follow him on Twitter @kiwanja