School of Natural Resource Sciences, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE, USA
L. Van Crowder, Senior Officer
Communication for Development Group, FAO Extension, Education and Communication Service
Agrometeorology Officer, FAO Environment and Natural Resources Service (SDRN)
Either directly or indirectly, new information and communications technologies
(ICTs) will have a dramatic impact on our lives. The Internet, satellite technology,
and geographic information systems are prime examples of ICTs that have
changed the way we carry out our daily activities. Data and information on
an almost infinite amount of topics are available in a timely fashion on
the Internet at the click of a mouse. Our goal in this article is to address
methods of communicating agrometeorological information, which consists of
disseminating and evaluating information, and to provide examples of these
processes. Given the dynamic nature of ICTs, some of the examples given here
may be outdated in a short time, while new applications of ICTs that are
currently beyond our imagination will be developed and accepted. We conclude
by raising and responding to some critical questions about communicating
agrometeorological information in the future. A representative list of Websites
dealing with agrometeorology, not discussed in this article, is given as an
annex to this article.
Agrometeorological information is part of a continuum that begins with
scientific knowledge and understanding and ends with the evaluation of the
information. Intermediate processes are collection of data, changing data
into useful information and dissemination of information. While scientific
knowledge and understanding transcends national borders, the remaining
components of this continuum may differ from developed and developing worlds.
The reasons for these differences are mainly a function of human, financial,
and natural resources. In order for this information to be useful, it must be
accurate, timely, and cost effective; i.e., the benefit to be gained from
implementing the information is greater than the cost to obtain the information.
While it is conventional wisdom that "we live in the information age", this era,
characterized by information "superhighways" that span the globe, is marked by a
large gap between the "information rich" and the "information poor". Rural
communities represent the "last mile of connectivity".
Some observers see the lack of telecommunication infrastructure in developing
nations as a possible advantage in the long run. The low-level of infrastructure
may mean that when new telecommunication infrastructure is installed, it will
be digital and possibly wireless, from the beginning. Since Internet services
rely heavily on the extent of network digitalization, developing countries just
starting Internet services may be able to quickly develop digital networks.
This has been the case in countries such as Botswana, Gambia, Mauritius and
Rwanda, where a large percentage of the lines are digital.
"Telecentres" are increasingly being seen as a means to provide a wide range of
telecommunication services to rural residents through a single access point.
Multi-Purpose Community Telecentres (MCTs) are being established in various
countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America by the International Telecommunication
Union (ITU), with various national and international partners. Located in a
shared rural community facility, MCTs can offer telecommunication services such
as telephone, fax, e-mail and Internet access along with training and support
in their use. In the design of MCTs, attention is being given to specific
applications and content for several sectors, for example; health, education,
environmental protection, and agriculture.
In many cases, the effectiveness of ICTs for agrometeorological information
dissemination can be enhanced by linking them to other communication media,
especially media which are more accessible to farmers such as rural radio.
In this way, a "multiplier effect" can be achieved.
Changes in radio technology will have an important impact on the dissemination
of information. Low powered radio stations that can broadcast a signal within a
radius of 20km are available at the cost of a moderately priced PC. Radios that
do not depend on batteries or line voltage are ideally suited for use in remote
locations. These radios have a built-in generator that is operated by a crank
mechanism, one revolution is equivalent to approximately 45 minutes of playing
time. A major limitation of this radio is the cost, currently around US$ 100.
The following examples from a variety of sources illustrate the different
approaches that can be used to communicate agrometeorological information. It
is not an exhaustive list. As noted earlier, this is an area of rapid change.
The California PestCast system is a joint effort of the UC-IPM Project, the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency, and the California Department of Pesticide
overall goal of this effort is to expand the application of computer based crop
disease forecasting in order to reduce unnecessary pesticide usage. There are
currently 15 disease models available for use in fruits, vegetables, and turf.
Several meteorological and climatological databases can be easily accessed from
the Internet. An extensive list can be found at the Internet site of the Usenet
The mission of the High Plains Climate Center (HPCC) is to increase the use and availability of
climate data in the High Plains region of the United States. The HPCC's activities
include operating the Regional Automated Weather Monitoring system; conducting
region-wide soil moisture and drought studies; developing connections with other
climate centers; and developing computer software for the summarization and
dissemination of important climate-related information
The Register of Ecological Models (REM) at the University of Kassel (Germany) is
a meta-database for existing mathematical models in ecology
(http://eco.wiz.uni-kassel.de/ecobas.html). In South Africa, daily weather
data can be retrieved for a large number of stations from
From the FAO Internet site, the Global Information and Early Warning System on
Food and Agriculture (GIEWS) provides extensive agricultural and climatic
information for most of the countries in Africa, including crop production
areas, crop calendars, and satellite images
In Brazil, two systems have been developed by the National Institute of
Meteorology (INMET) for dissemination of meteorological and agrometeorological
information. They are "VISUAL TEMPO" and "VISUAL CLIMA". The first system allows
the user to have access, through different modalities (BBS or Internet), to
real-time meteorological information as weather forecast or satellite imagery.
Through the second system, the user can have access to the agrometeorological
information as published in the dekadal and monthly bulletin. The software to
get access can be downloaded free,
Also in Brazil, the National Confederation of Agriculture (CNA), in collaboration
with the Council of the Small and Mid-Size Enterprise Supporting Service (SEBRAE),
has implemented an Internet system called "SIAGRO" providing useful information
about prices, weather, databases on rural legislation and crop and animal
protection laws and measures.
The "AgroExpert" Disease Forecasting System developed by Adcon Telemetry GmbH
is a complex system intended to
reduce the amount of chemicals used in the treatment of plant diseases.
Basically, the system uses climatic data which is processed according to rules
developed by plant protection researchers, to establish the optimum time for
chemical treatments. The system has been used in northern Europe for the past
five years. It employs a network of solar-powered weather stations to monitor
rainfall, humidity, temperature, leaf wetness and other factors. Farmers can
be contacted by phone or pager, or can access the system directly via a PC and
modem to determine the optimum time for chemical treatment.
Under a FAO technical assistance project, a well equipped, decentralized system
for agrometeorological and remote sensing data handling, processing and analysis,
as well as information product generation compatible with relevant background
databases, is operational in Southern Africa. Activities are carried out by
trained staff in the Regional Early Warning Unit for Food Security and the
National Early Warning Systems for Food Security within SADC (South Africa
Development Community) countries. Facilities are being established in Harare,
Zimbabwe, for the direct acquisition of Meteosat data to support rainfall
monitoring across the region. The use of geographic information systems and
the FAO-GIEWS (Global Information and Early Warning System on Food and Agriculture)
workstation for handling analysis of data from different sources on a common
geographic basis exists at the national level within SADC countries.
|Evaluating the Impact of Information
and Information Delivery Systems
Evaluation of the impact of information delivery systems can be done by surveys
and by the use of focus groups and innovative end-users. The specific survey
instrument or the techniques for gathering information may differ from community
to community, but the goal is essentially the same: to evaluate the impact of
the information and the information delivery system and to have a quantifiable
basis to improve the system.
Standard survey procedures such as; purpose and importance, confidentiality,
and follow-up must be carefully explained to the respondents. Survey results
must be communicated to the necessary agencies that developed and funded the
survey for evaluation of current programs and for future planning. The results
may be published in the appropriate scientific journals. The initial respondents
should not be forgotten in this communication process. By providing a summary of
the survey results to the respondents, not only are the survey developers giving
feedback to those who participated in the survey, they are developing a marketing
Some of the questions below may not be relevant to a region, other questions may
have to be added, and some questions may have to be deleted. The following
questions serve as an example:
Location: Answers to this question give an idea of the demographics of the end user.
For pest surveys: Occurrence of pest in the last several years. Response
to this question gives an idea of locations where pest has occurred and
if these locations fit into what "experts" have predicted or noted.
Ability to identify pest. Provide several descriptors. If the end user
can't identify pest or pest symptoms, then this is an area of further
education that fits into the training needs of end users.
Has the respondent used the information delivery system?
Has the information been helpful? At this point in the survey for the
remaining relevant questions, there should be several options such as
"strongly agree", "agree", "neutral", "disagree", and "strongly disagree".
If yes, how has the information been helpful? (List several key components of
the information delivery system; e.g., timeliness, caused the end user to think
differently about the situation, easy to understand the different recommendations
and their consequences, easy to implement recommendations).
If no, how has the information not been helpful? (List same options as above.)
Possibly the end user knew how to deal with the management situation and the
information was not needed.
If no, what improvements in the system would make users change their minds? Leave blank spaces to fill in responses. Again, responses may indicate areas for future research or changes in dissemination.
What feature did the user like most about the information delivery system?
List several options, respondent can also fill in the blanks.
What feature did the user like least about the information delivery
system? List several options, respondent can also fill in the blanks.
What improvements would the user like to see in the system? Leave
blank spaces to fill in the responses. Responses may indicate areas
for future research.
Would the user be willing to pay for this information?
How should the cost of this information delivery system be supported?
Rate percentage of cost to be borne by each entity. Choices should
include government, university, farmersí associations, private industry,
and other sources.
|Some critical questions
Continued improvement in communicating agrometeorological information
to farming communities requires addressing the following critical questions.
How can diverse types of agrometeorological data be integrated into
useful information that responds to the often-dissimilar application
needs of farming communities?
Agrometeorologists change data into information through whatever tools are
available, currently through the use of computer-based technologies. In
addressing the first question, we must begin by considering the training
of agrometeorologists. Training in this area should include an appreciation
of the complex interactions of biotic and abiotic factors as plants and animals
develop and grow. This addition to the traditional training of agrometeorologists
is necessary to provide a larger perspective to the transformation of data into
What types of information are needed by diverse groups of end-users and,
given their different farming, socio-economic and cultural systems, which
are the appropriate communication technologies to reach them?
The information needed for diverse groups of end-users growing crops or
raising animals is basically the same. The differences arise from the human
and financial resources available to implement this information and the
methods of information dissemination. These differences must be considered
in designing any information dissemination system.
Given diminishing public support for agricultural advisory services,
what alternatives exist for the communication of agrometeorological
information and under which circumstances can it be provided on a fee basis?
First, as much as possible, agricultural advisory services must accurately
document the added value and impacts of these services. This should be done as
a proactive rather than a reactive position. The documentation should include
the monetary value of the information, if used properly. Just because accurate
information is disseminated doesn't mean that it will be used or used properly.
Included in this documentation should be detailed descriptions on changes in
positive behaviour (impacts). This documentation may positively influence
government funding or funding from other sources.
The information must be prepared by agrometeorologists in a way that
the majority of users will easily understand. Then it can be adapted
and sent to key communication outlets such as radio, television, newspapers,
bulletins, specialized information networks and web sites for broad-scale
as well as targeted dissemination. From the perspective of these media
outlets, the information must also have a value, a different value than
intended for the end users. Various types of users may buy the products
advertised by the different media outlets or subscribe to information services.
What are the training needs of end-users and of the various intermediaries
that provide them with advisory services?
Before the training needs of end-users and intermediaries can be addressed,
the question of motivation for users to access and use the information
should be discussed. While altruistic values to use the information can
be a source of motivation, e.g., sustainability of the environment, they
will probably have minimal success. Farming is a long-term business, and
like any business, its practitioners want to be successful -- motivation
should be based on sustainable profitability. Given this perspective, what
information is needed? What information is already available? What information
needs to be provided? Of the information that needs to be provided, what
information is of primary importance, secondary importance, etc? Addressing
these questions requires assessments of the information needs and resources
of specific groups within the diverse user community. In order to facilitate
the communication of information to the user community, social scientists
should interact with agrometeorologists to provide a structure for the
information that is suited to the target audience.
The Internet will play a major role in agrometeorological information either
through direct or indirect access. In developing countries, Multi-purpose
Community Telecentres will be the focal point for many types of information,
some of which will come from the Internet. These Telecentres can be the source
of agrometeorological information that can be disseminated over rural radio
stations in local languages. Remote sensing data and geographic information
systems are being used in southern Africa to provide information on agricultural
production conditions and food security.
While information can be disseminated, is it being used? A methodology was
presented to evaluate the impact of information. This methodology can be
applied as a written survey or through interviews. Evidence is presented
that people would be willing to pay a fee for agrometeorological information
if it has value, in both the developed and developing world.
Critical questions have been raised but clear responses are linked mainly to
the scientific, technological, and social developments that will take place
in the 21st Century. It is clear that information and communication technologies
will improve in the future as will accessibility. What will limit the generation
and dissemination of agrometeorological information in the future is the same
that limits it today: the interaction of people, from scientist to extension
worker, in the continuum from basic understanding to practical applications.
Thus, to prepare for the future now, we have to better integrate the human
capital available at all levels of organization. Specifically, we recommend
that information and communication technologies be a component of the training
of agrometeorologists in order to provide the best possible advice to farmers.