AGRICULTURAL HELP THROUGH GIS TECHNOLOGY

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Limitation in data collection, especially in producing real-time data, is hampering the work of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, as it relates to servicing its various internal and external publics.

To counter this constraint, the Ministry will be implementing Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology across its several departments, to assist practitioners in analysis, forecasting, risk-assessment, planning and mapping, among other capabilities.

Speaking today at the opening of a GIS workshop, facilitated by a two-member Argentinian team, Acting Chief Agricultural Officer, Ralph Farnum, revealed that  the Ministry was inundated with requests for current information, whether it related to fisheries- namely the movement of fish stock, or forestry and crops, among other areas. He also noted that the Ministry’s Planning Unit was being pressured to output economic data, sometimes in real time.

“We have difficulty on the ground in collecting that data. We are facing problems like the Giant African Snail, pests and diseases, especially of crops, and current data is needed to plan and to take action to handle these issues,” he said.

Adding that farmers were “quarreling” about the level of imports of crops which they were producing, Mr. Farnum underlined that this area was also one which could be  addressed with the new technology.

“If we know how to move, plan and get things done we can manipulate the information to plot solutions…when the difficulties come, we can depend on the professionals… but we want to be able to help ourselves on the ground. We also want to be able to carry it by ourselves to some point.”

In his address to the workshop, Deputy Chief Agricultural Officer, Charleston Lucas, said the Ministry had been at the forefront of the implementation of GIS technology since the 1990s, and over the years it had been facilitating training to ensure that staff was au fait  with the tools.

He cited the ability to produce risk-assessment maps for use with development applications at the Soil Conservation Unit, as one of the Ministry’s GIS success stories. Noting that GIS applications were “far and wide,” Mr. Lucas pointed out that the geo-spatial capability would allow officers working in soil conservation to get to those areas which they could not get to on foot, especially in relation to soil erosion.

He gave as examples its use by entomologists to monitor pest and disease among crops; fisheries practitioners to trace the migratory patterns of fish and agronomists to ascertain crop acreage and conduct fertiliser trials among other activities.

“These are difficult times for agriculture,” he warned, “Entrepreneurs who want to invest and farmers who want to produce crops are all looking to the Ministry of Agriculture for information that is timely, so that in these challenging economic times they can carry out their business successfully.”

This week marks the second time a team of Argentinian consultants was on island to assist the Ministry with its implementation efforts, through an ongoing technical assistance programme. (CG/BGIS)

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