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WSU scientist pays it forward
Helping Africa researchers improve crops, sustainability
Wednesday, May 2, 2012
By Brian Clark, College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences
Participants in an October decision-support system workshop in Accra, Ghana.
Hoogenboom is standing back left.
Hoogenboom is standing back left.
PROSSER, Wash. - Knowledge is power. 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 Washington State University SU 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, director of WSU’s AgWeatherNet. To that end, he is a longtime internationally recognized leader in decision-support systems.
Decision-support systems, such as those available through WSU’s AgWeatherNet, help agricultural professionals decide when to use frost control, apply pest control measures and make other decisions critical to the success of their crops.
The 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 how decision-support systems were applied in simulation to 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 systems 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 - and they often lack knowledge of how to manage the inputs they do have.
As with the extension system in the U.S. and many other countries, Hoogenboom said, 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 information includes slope and color; soil’s color often tells researchers about its composition, including the presence of organic matter, as well as the conditions it is subjected to, such as rain, wind and other weathering forces.
Crop management includes information about plant varieties, planting dates and seed/seedling spacing, as well as 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 the 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,” he said.
He said workshops such as those in Africa contribute to the global economic and environmental sustainability of agricultural systems.
"This could potentially have a positive economic impact for Washington,” he said. "It’s a fact that, as people become better off, they change the types of foods they eat. Considering the vitality and diversity of agriculture here, this could lead to export opportunities for Washington producers.”
For more information on WSU’s AgWeatherNet, please visit here. For more information about "Improving Soil Fertility Recommendations in Africa using the Decision Support System for Agrotechnology Transfer (DSSAT),” please visit the publisher’s website.
Gerrit Hoogenboom, WSU agrometeorologist, 509-786-9371, firstname.lastname@example.org
Brian Clark, WSU College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences news, 509-335-6967, email@example.com