The development comes as a result of an internet platform, www.infonet-biovision.org, launched today by icipe – African Insect Science for Food and Health and the Swiss-based BioVision Foundation with funding from the Principality of Liechtenstein, through its Government Development Agency.
The site, explained BioVision Chief Executive Officer, Andreas Schriber, is different from search engines because it is designed with farmers, and trainers of farmers in mind. “Imagine a tomato farmer whose crop is invested by a disease. In order to protect the plants, he needs to identify the disease first. If he types in “tomato diseases” in one of the general search engines available on the world wide web (www), the result might be millions of pages. Most of them will be characterised by heavy scientific jargon, and the farmer will have a difficult time sieving through all of them,” he says.
Mr Schriber notes that in contrast, www.infonet-biovision.org, has collated all the various possible diseases of tomatoes in the region, and their visual symptoms, either through photographs or illustrations. “All the farmer will have to do is identify the picture that most closely represents the damage on his crop, and he will be guided to carefully selected and edited methods, tips and strategies, on how to go the problem.”
This information, emphasises icipe Director General, Prof Christian Borgemeister, is scientifically accurate, having been compiled by local and international experts in collaboration with a network of partner organizations. More importantly, it incorporates farmers’ perspective.Currently, explains project leader Monique Hunziker the site incorporates information on over 40 major pests from those that affect the production in the farms, such as aphids, to those that damage the crop while in storage. This material has taken into consideration more than 35 major crops, vegetables and fruits grown in East Africa.
“This is a starting point that we are building-up on, adding more content on a daily basis. We have, for instance, already started to put together information on soil and water conservation, natural enemies, on medicinal plants, the processing and preservation of fruits and vegetables and on organic farming and plant nutrition,” says Mr Schriber.
In addition, the plan is to integrate information on simple and environmentally safe technologies and approaches to generate incomes, and more information on human health (integrated malaria control) and animal health (i.e. animal keeping, tsetse, tick control) and many more issues.
icipe and BioVision are aware that for farmers to take advantage of this initiative, they must at least have access to a computer, and the ability to use it. Initial field tests of Infonet, however, show that even for beginners with no computer knowledge whatsoever, it takes as little as 20 minutes to get acquainted with the platform.
For farmers who have computers but no internet access there is an off-line version of Infonet available, downloadable immediately from the website or available on Compact Discs or USB flash sticks.
Liz Nganga | alfa
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