Intranet: A new agricultural tool

Shortly after the disastrous December storms in Venezuela, FAO initiated a project to help in the country's recovery from the emergency. The project provided technical assistance to assess the country's food and crop situation and the need for agricultural rehabilitation and emergency assistance. A key part of FAO's effort was creation of an Emergency Intranet Network, a new tool in relief operations.

Intranet posting of satellite images, like this one of Venezuela, can provide participants in relief operations with the latest information on damage to agriculture and infrastructure

"We call it knowledge management, and the objective is to organize existing information about past experiences along with data about the present situation in order to help people take effective decisions," says Fernando Servan, of FAO's World Agricultural Information Centre (WAICENT). He was one of the two FAO specialists who went to Venezuela to set up the network. The idea behind the network is to provide instant access to information about damage to agriculture and infrastructure, food aid needs and necessary reconstruction activities. Shared between all relevant government ministries, international agencies and non-governmental organizations, such a network makes relief operations easier, more precise and more effective.

The FAO specialists arrived in Venezuela two weeks after the storms, which killed many thousands and left more than 150,000 homeless. Their challenge was to develop a system to allow all staff in the Ministry of Production and Commerce access to key agricultural statistics, which were tied to a single computer. The solution was an Intranet, developed in one busy week. All staff in the Ministry can log on to it from their desktop computers, giving them access to such key information as damage to crops and anticipated harvest and price data, as well as satellite images of the affected regions. Still in phase one, the network only works within the Ministry, but in a matter of weeks it will be available on the Internet.

"Unfortunately we needed this crisis to start the project, but the network has a useful life far beyond the emergency," says Mr Servan. "If regularly updated, it will also have great value for Venezuela in the future in monitoring harvests and preventing new crises." Staff from the Statistics Department in the Ministry will be responsible for updating the system with information received from the regions.

"Having the information available helps us make the right decisions and act fast," said Ivan Angulo Chacón, Vice Minister of International Affairs in the Production and Commerce Ministry during a recent visit to FAO. "Everyone can now get information and organize specific projects. The Intranet is a really good tool."

FAO is also very pleased with the resulting system. "This was the first time that we have taken advantage of the Intranet technology in an emergency situation, but I don't think it will be the last," says Miguel Espinar, of FAO's Special Relief Operations Service. Discussions are under way about implementing the system in other emergency situations where quick access to available date is essential to organize relief and rehabilitation.

24 January 2000

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