BSPP Presidential Meeting 1996

Unlocking the Future: Information Technology in Plant Pathology

Plenary session 7: Knowledge dissemination

Multi-media tools for diagnosing and managing pest and disease problems
Geoff Norton
Cooperative Research Centre for Tropical Pest Management, Gehrmann Laboratories, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland 4072, Australia.

The number and range of computer-based aids for the prediction, diagnosis and management of insect pest and disease problems has steadily increased over the past 25 years. As new developments occur in Information Technology, the potential value of computer-based systems in improving pest management is increased accordingly. However, to realise this potential, the lessons of the past need to be heeded. The reasons why computer-based systems have not had more impact include their being -

  • science or technology driven, rather than being designed to meet specified user needs
  • constructed by biologists with computing ability rather than by specialist programmers
  • developed de novo, with the "software wheel" often being reinvented
  • produced with short-term funding, and lacking resources for up-grading and maintenance
  • seen as competing with, rather than complementing, existing research and extension effort

The Cooperative Research Centre for Tropical Pest Management (CTPM) is a joint venture between four participant organizations - two State Departments, CSIRO and The University of Queensland. Within this joint venture, a suite of software products for pest management is being developed to complement other activities - specifically, problem specification, generic and specific research and development, and education, training and communication. Within this context, the main features of the software products developed are -

  • they are produced by a team of 10 programmers, working closely with other scientists and users
  • wherever possible, the software is developed generically, providing large economies of scale
  • builders are provided with a number of products, allowing easy adaptation and use
  • training manuals are supplied or being developed for educational forms of the software
  • monitoring and evaluation of prototype and finished products is standard practice
  • "extension software" is being developed in close collaboration with industry and State Departments

This paper outlines the Centre's IT strategy. Demonstrations of software products, to illustrate their use for diagnosing and managing pest/disease problems, include -

  • LucID - an easy to use, interactive taxonomic/diagnostic key and builder.
  • BugMatch - crop- based information systems (on CD) for citrus and cotton (a joint development with Rhone-Poulenc Australia).


CD-ROM as a dissemination medium in practice: crop protection case studies in Africa
Sulayman S M'Boob
FAO Regional Office for Africa, PO Box 1628, Accra, Ghana.

In Africa, as elsewhere in the developing world, there is an urgent need for improved delivery of information to support the effective implementation of Integrated Pest Management. FAO, through its Regional Office for Africa, has a special responsibility for supporting information needs in plant quarantine. The FAO Regional Office has a programme to establish information and training networks throughout Eastern and Southern Africa to support the needs of plant protection staff in National Plant Protection Services. In several projects carried out in partnership with CAB INTERNATIONAL, FAO has supplied National Plant Protection Services in Africa with extensive information resources on CD-ROM, backed by hardware, training and technical support. Typically, plant protection specialists who gain access to such resources for the first time display obvious excitement, and gain considerably in professional confidence. The CD-ROM medium appears well suited to delivering substantial information resources to developing countries. Up to now, FAO has focused on providing bibliographic databases in this way. There are now good prospects for further strengthening information resources in African plant protection services through provision of user-friendly information in multi-media format. At present, CD-ROM remains a preferred medium. In due course, the Internet may play a significant complementary role.

Networked communications in extension
Reuben Ausher
Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Extension Service, Department of Crop Protection, Tel Aviv 61070, P.O. Box 7054, Israel.

The conceptual differences between the need for data, information and knowledge are discussed. Networked communications in extension have been tried out in the framework of the extension service in Israel in recent years. The experience was successful in the case of the dairy cattle industry. It failed with poultry and beef cattle. Flower growers connected in the past by e-mail to the auctions in the Netherlands have downgraded the technology level and switched to facsimile communication with the marketplace.

The following types of networks have been established or accessed by extension in Israel:

  • state or regional farmer-operated networks
  • in-house crop-based projects and databases operated by extension
  • Internet-based services.

Crop protection extension is a component of several of these programs.

The following critical success factors have been identified:

  • frequently updated information
  • bearing on farmers' decision-making
  • available in local language
  • charged for actual use only
  • easy handling (log-in and log-out).

The following means of communication with farmers and farmers' groups are compared in terms of farmers' needs and the development of new extension methodologies:

  • face-to-face
  • letters
  • telephone and cellular phone
  • facsimile
  • Internet-based telecommunications
  • Internet-based telecommunications for work groups.

Being constantly reduced in staff, the Extension Service in Israel has to amplify the communication channels with its clientele, and among its professionals. Networked communications are a promising but lengthy avenue.

Modern communication needs in agriculture for developing countries
S Nagarajan
Directorate of Wheat Research, Indian Council of Agricultural Research, Karnal 132001, Haryana, India.

In the expanding Indian agriculture, communication plays a vital role in linking policy makers, scientists, farm level agro-consultants, market operators and international institutions. India, in the process of transforming its agriculture, has fully utilized publishing media, audio systems, audio-visual appliances, street drama and performing arts to quickly communicate with farmers, who were not necessarily formally educated, on the need to adopt modern practices to maximize yield. In academic schools, in-service education and in advanced research, the information explosion is being handled through computers.

India is integrated by the INSAT network and is telelinked throughout its 600 or more districts. Flow of weather information, transmission of banking data, and other vital information linkages therefore occur readily. Creating information on the genetic resources of wheat, analysis of a billion information points on common wheat improvement trials conducted at forty places, and computerizing the plant breeder's crossing note book are all nearing completion. Areas remaining to be explored include usage of GIS systems, computer-aided identification of crop varieties and pests, farmer-friendly advisory services, on-line connection to monitor national and international prices of commodities, and farmer education through multimedia slide shows. Usage of CD-ROM systems and computer usage in post-graduate education are well established. To attain a sustainable agriculture, the need to harness the knowledge explosion through electronic handling of information is well recognized.

Electronic publishing in plant pathology: predicting the unpredictable
Robert Campbell
Blackwell Science Ltd, Osney Mead, Oxford OX2 0EL, UK.

Information technology is full of examples of hopelessly wrong predictions and one way out of this is to conclude that the present is determined by the future. Certainly the current management school fashion is to focus on purpose, people and process and away from detailed predictions with meaningless mission statements. The latest forecasts from the European Commission are safely vague and warn against information overload and disorientation.

The predictions around 1980 of future publishing systems based on more powerful interconnected computers with the journal article moving through the publishing process in machine-readable form have now largely been fulfilled. Perhaps we can conclude that the promise of the future determines the present. Systems for searching the literature (discovery) are now much improved, with exciting innovations such as "search agents" (software that will search the WWW for required information) just round the corner. Once found, however, the delivery of an article still holds problems which may be resolved by Internet II.

New primary publishing models are being tried but it is most likely that the electronic version of established journals will dominate as they have the status to attract the high quality work. The market will demand some value innovation in this change from delivering hard copy at a fixed subscription price to giving access to digital files with scope for new, and perhaps fairer, ways of charging.

The new concept of the electronic textbook is also evolving, based on inter-action between the student and a comprehensive range of contents. These will be expensive to develop but may find favour with policy makers convinced that self-tuition systems will enable universities to teach more students at lower unit cost.

In conclusion, once the speed of delivery matches the new discovery facilities there may be a period of slower development as we adapt to the new more powerful and efficient publishing systems and focus on the financial aspects and ways of evaluating published work.