There are several services which farmers can directly access to help them to maintain their crops and get the best from their products at harvest time. Featured here are Farmer’s Friend, available via SMS and on the web, and infonet-biovision, which farmers can access from the web or on a CD-ROM.
Farmer’s Friend was of the services used to answer farmers’ questions in the Grameen Foundation’s Community Knowledge Workers (CKW) initiative [see page 4]. From the range of applications available to the CKWs, this was the most popular as users receive instant, prac
tical answers on a wide range of topics.
The service is not restricted to the project, however. Anyone can search the Farmer’s Friend database of agricultural information by sending an SMS message with a short question or a few keywords. The service then sends back an SMS with the answer. Although the SMS service is currently only available in Uganda, farmers living elsewhere can access the service from the web.
The search process
From the web: Enter the following address into your browser:
Type the question or keywords into the search field and click the ‘SMS’ button. The answer will appear in the screen area of the mobile phone image on the right.
From a mobile phone: To access the SMS service, you need a mobile phone with text messaging functions. The service is currently only available via MTN Uganda and costs 110 Ugandan shillings (approx: US$0.05) for each SMS.
To request information, start a new message, type in the question or keywords and send it to 6001.
Searches should be as specific as possible. Do not send a single word like ‘disease’; try to mention at least the type of crop, for example: banana disease.
Or enter the name of the disease, if you know what it is, and what it is you want to know about it.
For example: ‘How do I treat bacterial wilt in bananas’?
Since SMS messages are restricted to 160 characters per message it might be simpler to request more complex information using keywords, for example: ‘banana bacterial wilt treat’ or: ‘banana bacterial wilt symptoms’.
Keywords: ‘cabbage pests’
Reply: ‘Cabbage affected by pests may show signs like: spotted, patched leaves and stems. To prevent, remove weak plants because they are easily attacked, clear the garden of rubbish and weeds which are breeding places for insects. Use clean and dry mulch without pests. Onions should be intercropped with other plants to repel cabbage butterfly, mice. Reply: 1 Aphids. 2 Loopers. 3 Snails. 4 Mealy bugs. 5 Leafminers.’
If the user thinks the cabbage plants are affected by aphids they can reply to the message by sending ‘1’ to get more information.
Infonet-biovision is a free online database and CD-ROM that provides practical agricultural information. It was initially developed for crops and the environment of East Africa, but it is also useful for farmers in other tropical regions.
The database contains comprehensive details on soil and water management, pest control methods and the organic management of more than 40 common vegetable, fruit and grain crops. There is also information on how to identify, prevent and cure dozens of pests and diseases.
From the web: Open your browser and enter the address: www.infonet-biovision.org
From the CD-ROM: Place the disc in the CD / DVD drive of your computer. It should start automatically and open at the home page.
Click on the ‘PLANT’ image on the left-hand side of the page. Click on ‘crops, fruits, vegetables and grains’ to see the list of names and images of all the featured crops, which includes avocado, cabbage, groundnut, pigeon peas and wheat.
Scroll down to find the crop you are looking for and click on the image.
The page provides background information on the crop, covering geographical distribution, common varieties, and nutritional and climate data. It then goes on to give more detailed information on land preparation and management, propagation and planting, treatment of seeds, crop husbandry, harvesting and even typical fresh produce requirements demanded by many markets.
Pests and diseases
Click the link ‘pests and diseases’ on the ‘PLANT’ page to see a range of images and names of pests and diseases found in many tropical countries, including bacterial wilt, banana weevil, late blight, nematodes and even a list of pests that affect produce in storage.
Each page contains general information on the geographical distribution of the pest or disease, brief details of its biology and life-cycle, plus photographs to aid identification. There is then a detailed explanation of how to recognize the symptoms, monitor for infection, and how to prevent and control infections, including non-chemical treatment methods.
The content of the database was developed by scientists and local experts in consultation with farmers who gave practical feedback on the techniques and processes described. Infonet-biovision also provides limited information on medicinal plants, fruit and vegetable processing, natural pest control methods, soil and water management, and animal husbandry.