Planning and forecasting within the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development stands to be significantly enhanced soon with the proposed implementation of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology across some departments.

According to Agricultural Officer, with responsibility for the Ministry’s Agricultural Information Services (AIS) Unit, Mark Byer, efforts are on stream to develop and make the technology available, and to this end a cadre of officers are currently being trained in its use.

GIS enables users to visualise and analyse spatial information in a dynamic, digital environment, and provides tools for integrating, querying and analysing a variety of data types. These include: scientific and cultural data, satellite imagery and aerial photography, with geographic locations providing the integral link between all the data.

The technology, which can be used for scientific investigations, resource management and development planning might, for instance, allow emergency planners to easily calculate emergency response times in the event of a natural disaster.

In explaining the utility of the system within the Ministry’s context, Mr. Byer said that it would basically allow officers to “see data on location,” and thereby create maps.

He cited the potential for mappings of plantation distribution; small farmers; areas of high and low density rainfall; diverse terrain and even the spread of the Giant African Snail population across the island, among other areas.

In terms of analysis, he stressed that the technology could allow persons to determine the best routes and nearest distances to be used in disaster and emergency management planning.

“If a disaster strikes, or if a new pest comes into the island, GIS can allow us to see what areas we would want to isolate or put a buffer around. It would allow us to see which districts are involved. For instance in the recent (chemical) fire on the Ministry’s site, we could have seen which communities we would have had to isolate,” he explained.

Noting that the Ministry of Agriculture was one of the first to have considered the usage of this technology years ago, the Agricultural Officer said since then, other departments had taken up the technology and virtually ran with it.

“This is a very technical area and will necessitate specialised training. While we currently have remote desktop access, we would like to have the GIS service accessible to various departments and make it into a service,” he urged.

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