A smart solution: Reaping the fruits of technology


Modern technology can be used to overcome problems of access to information. (Photo: UNDP/Stefanov)

“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. Timing is everything with these pests. You’ve got to predict their migrations – and that can be a matter of hours. Spraying too early or too late is much less effective and a lot more expensive because you need bigger amounts – often as much as three times the quantity. And you can guess what that does to the environment.“

An innovative way of notifying farmers that costs less than $1,000 to develop.

  • “The challenge – as always with development – was to ensure long-term sustainability,” explains UNDP’s Dimitrija Sekovski, “And in this case a major factor in terms of sustainability was expense. We knew we needed to find as inexpensive a solution as possible to the notification problem. And that’s what we came up with – an innovative way of notifying farmers that cost less than 1,000 US dollars to develop.”

Overuse of pesticides amongst orchard farmers in Resen has been 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, including many endangered animals unique to Prespa and the ancient freshwater lake.

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 remarkable 30% reduction in the amount of pesticides used by local farmers each season, which is good news for the environment and good news for farmers who have made substantial savings as a result.  

“The way we dealt with pests before was wasteful,” says Petkovski, “And 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.”

The first major step towards a technical solution to the over-use of pesticides was taken in 2005 with the establishment of a system for monitoring pests and diseases. This system, developed by UNDP in cooperation with the Municipality of Resen, involved the installation of six solar-powered agro-meteorological monitoring stations and a number of insect pheromone traps. The monitoring stations gathered all the necessary data, but the problem remained of how to get that data directly to farmers as quickly as possible. There’s no local media in Resen, so for the past seven years they’ve had to rely on notifications in the square – and that has been far from adequate to ensure all farmers are adequately and promptly informed.

“The challenge – as always with development – was to ensure long-term sustainability,” explains UNDP’s Dimitrija Sekovski, “And in this case a major factor in terms of sustainability was expense. We knew we needed to find as inexpensive a solution as possible to the notification problem. 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 about the codling moth on Friday,” he says, and displays the following message:

Apple trees in the area of the village of Rajca 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 village of Rajca 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. Just knowing that in time has saved a lot of our fruit.”

The innovative system of SMS notification was developed with UNDP support by the Faculty of Computer Science of the University of Cyril & Methodius in Skopje. As well as SMS notifications, the solution also makes use of Facebook. The same administrator (a pest control expert) responsible for informing farmers by SMS is also responsible for updating a dedicated Farmers’ Association page on Facebook, further expanding the amount and accessibility of timely information.

“The only real challenge now,” says Sekovski, “is to ensure that the post of this administrator– whose salary is currently supported with UNDP funding - becomes a permanent position within the Farmers’ Association.” Low costs and simplicity of implementation make this system highly suitable for replication in other municipalities across the country. “This shows just how effectively modern technology can be used to overcome problems of access to information.”

Together with the ongoing 6-year project for the Restoration of Lake Prespa Basin, supported by UNDP with funding from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, the new notification system is set to further transform farming practices in the region, securing a sustainable future for the unique ecosystem of Lake Prespa.