Reaping the fruits of technology in FYR Macedonia

man in orchard shows text message
Text messages notify farmers early of which pests will need to be sprayed for. (Photo: UNDP in FYR Macedonia)

“This is the one everyone knows from cartoons – the little worm in the apple,” explains Eftim Petkovski, scooping the larva of a codling moth from an apple in his orchard in Resen. “But it’s no joke, I can tell you – if we farmers don’t spray for them early on, all our livelihoods are at risk. And you can guess what that does to the environment."

Highlights

  • Overuse of pesticides has been identified as a major cause of pollution to environmentally vulnerable Prespa Lake Basin, home to over 2,000 species of birds, fish and mammals
  • An innovative SMS notification system that cost less than US $1,000 to develop informs farmers of the latest pest control updates
  • Timely spraying has led to a 30 percent reduction in the quantity of pesticides used by farmers each season

Overuse of pesticides has proven to be a major cause of pollution in the beautiful but environmentally vulnerable region of the Prespa Lake Basin, threatening the habitat of over 2,000 species of birds, fish and mammals unique to the region.

UNDP has been working in close cooperation with the Municipality of Resen in recent years, with funding from the Global Environment Facility and the Swiss Development Cooperation, on projects to raise awareness of the dangers of pesticides and to help local farmers adopt more environmentally sustainable agricultural practices. These efforts have already led to a 30 percent reduction in the amount of pesticides used by local farmers each season - good news for the environment and savings for farmers.

“The way we dealt with pests before was wasteful,” says Petkovski. “A lot of that could be put down to farmers’ lack of awareness but that’s not the whole story. The problem of knowing the best time to spray is a problem faced by all farmers. It’s about the speed of notification, and that’s in many ways a technical problem needing a technical solution.”

In response, the Municipality of Resen and UNDP set up a system to monitor pests and diseases, installing six solar-powered agro-meteorological monitoring stations and a number of insect pheromone traps.

But the problem of getting the data directly to farmers remained, and the previous system of posting paper flyers in the square was far from adequate to ensure all farmers were adequately and promptly informed.

“To make the system sustainable, we needed to find an inexpensive solution,” explains UNDP’s Dimitrija Sekovski. “And that’s what we came up with – an innovative way of notifying farmers that cost less than 1,000 US dollars to develop.”

Walking between the apple trees in his orchard, Petkovski clicks on his mobile phone and pulls up his message menu.

“Here’s the SMS we received on Friday,” he says: Apple trees in the area have been infected by the coddling moth. The apple trees should be treated in the next 10 days. For more info, visit the Facebook page or call the Association of Farmers.

“That message went out to every farmer in the region whose name is registered with the local Association of Farmers,” says Petkovski, “and that’s how we were able to spray before the moths had a chance to spread.”

The SMS system was developed by the Faculty of Computer Science of the University of Cyril & Methodius in Skopje, with UNDP support. The same pest control expert who sends SMS updates to farmers also updates a Farmers’ Association page on Facebook, to help get the word out even further. Low costs and simplicity of implementation make this system highly suitable for replication in other municipalities across the country.

The new notification system is part of a six-year project to restore and protect Prepa Lake, funded by the Swiss Development Cooperation.