Knowledge is power, and in data-poor regions of the world, techniques that make data collection more efficient are a boon for local researchers and the stakeholders they serve. That’s why WSU agrometeorologist Gerrit Hoogenboom helped lead a series of workshops in Tanzania, Ghana and Kenya to transfer decision-support system technologies to researchers in African nations.
“One of my interests is in helping to build the capacity of scientists in developing countries in order to help improve crop production for long-term economic and environmental sustainability,” said Hoogenboom, the director of WSU’s AgWeatherNet. To that end, Hoogenboom is a longtime internationally recognized leader in decision-support systems.
Decision-support systems, such as those available through WSU’s AgWeatherNet system, help agricultural professionals decide when to use frost control, apply pest control measures and to make other decisions critical to the success of their particular crop. The series of workshops resulted in a textbook, Improving Soil Fertility Recommendations in Africa using the Decision Support System for Agrotechnology Transfer (DSSAT), recently published by Springer. The book offers examples of the application of decision-support systems in the simulation of various agricultural management and conservation practices.
“The trial-and-error method of scientific research may not be fast enough to meet the challenges faced by farmers in countries with complex agro-ecosystems,” Hoogenboom said. He pointed out that many African nations, in particular, have much more complex agro-ecological systems than does the U.S. African farmers, he said, must reckon with system that “are characterized by extremely variable weather conditions with distinct dry and wet seasons, variable soil conditions and in many cases very poor and eroded soils.” Because of a lack of financial resources, farmers also have few inputs — fertilizers and pesticides — as well as often inadequate knowledge of how to mange the inputs they do have.
Hoogenboom explained that, just as with the extension system in the U.S. and many other countries, scientists often lead they way in developing good management practices, which they can then transfer to farmers. “But the first step is acquiring and developing access to good data sets.”
The kind of data required to develop a decision-support system includes information about soils and crop management practices, as well as weather data such as those collected by WSU’s AgWeatherNet stations. Soil data includes information about slope and color; soil’s color often tells researchers about the composition of the soil, including the presence of organic matter, as well as the conditions it is subjected to, such as rain, wind or other weathering forces. Crop management includes information about plant varieties, planting dates and the spacing of seeds or seedlings, as we as the amounts and types of inputs used in the crop system.
“Evaluating environmental conditions and crop management systems in different parts of the world contributes to the general robustness of all systems,” Hoogenboom said. “We would like to have one of best agrometeorology and decision-support system development programs in the world while at the same time working directly with scientists in both developed and developing countries, learning from them as well as sharing our knowledge with them.”
Hoogenboom said that workshops such as this contribute to the global economic and environmental sustainability of agricultural systems. “This could potentially have a positive economic impact for Washington. It’s a fact that, as people become better off, they change they types of foods they eat. Considering the vitality and diversity of agriculture in here, this could lead to export opportunities for Washington producers.”
For more information on WSU’s AgWeatherNet, please visit http://weather.wsu.edu/.
For more information on the book mentioned in this article, Improving Soil Fertility Recommendations in Africa using the Decision Support System for Agrotechnology Transfer (DSSAT), please visit the publisher’s web site at http://bit.ly/dssat.