How can SMS and Facebook help farmers in Prespa?
“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.
- - Raise awareness of the dangers of pesticides
- - 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.”
SMS and Facebook help get data to farmers
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.
Low costs and simplicity of implementation make this system highly suitable for replication in other municipalities across the country.
The new notification system is part of a six year project to restore and protect Prepa Lake, funded by the Swiss Development Cooperation.