The following pertains to an Internet networking experiment with
agricultural scientists in West Africa, managed by Dr. Gbassay
Tarawalie of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture. [Note:
the message was composed in Nigeria, but I was unable to gain access
to a phone line there, and am sending it now from France.]
I joined Dr. Tarawalie at the IITA campus in Ibadan, and we proceeded
north to Mokwa and Kaduna, Jos and Zaria. The roads in the north of
Nigeria are mostly new it seems, and we made excellent time. Dr.
Tarawalie and I passed our first night at the Halal Fountain in Kaduna,
a pleasant oasis with flowing fountains and no beer available through
room service. My room television offered selections from India and
Dubai, in addition to CNN and Sky.
We took the next morning to discuss a regional agricultural experiment
on cover crops with a local Kaduna NGO. It seems farmers can less
and less afford to leave land fallow, yet chemical fertilizers are also
less and less effective as micronutrients are drained away over time.
Cover crops do several things, including enriching the soil more
completely than most fertilizers, choking out weeds, and providing
fresh green forage for animals, all things appreciated by many farmers.
A particular variety, macuna, grows well in some places, poorly in
others. It may produce its own seeds, depending on photoperiod and
moisture perhaps. A grand experiment across West Africa is now
under way to identify some of these details and to determine what
technology packages for cover crops should be recommended to
farmers in particular places.
Data will be collected across the region as scientists simultaneously
plant and monitor Macuna, either at experiment stations or in farmer
field trials. The data will be sent to Dr. Tarawalie. He in turn will
assure that each participating scientist in West Africa receives back a
monthly or even weekly copy of the dataset. Scientists will see their
own results as well as those of their colleagues in other countries.
Differences will be discussed. Measurements will be standardized.
Problems will be resolved.
And it will all take place by email in near real time. The more usual
practice in West Africa is for these experiments to be conducted
independently in each country, with results shared many months later
at an annual scientific meeting.
Of course there are many hurdles ahead to be overcome. Email isn't
reliable everywhere, but Dr. Tarawalie has a small budget to help in
some cases. The experiment will be moderated by a scientist within a
national institution, and Dr. Tarawalie will assist this scientist in
acquiring the skills he or she requires to manage an electronic forum
effectively. This strategy of coordinating science across a region as
vast as West Africa is a bit new, and though we've tried to anticipate
problems, we expect there will be some we haven't forseen.
Dr. Tarawalie will also be building a cover crops Web site on which to
mount reports and other information about progress in the experiment
as it unfolds. The ultimate objective is to do good science, while at
the same time trying to see how good access to the Internet and
information technologies in general can help do better science.
The final product of the experiment will hopefully be at least one and
preferably many scientific papers suitable for peer-reviewed
publication, with senior authorship by scientists within African
institutions aided by their colleagues at the IITA, to disseminate the
results of the research, and at the same time to develop a better
understanding of the practical problems associated with doing science
By late morning we were on the road to Jos, climbing steadily toward
the heights of Plateau State. The air grew noticeably cooler with each
passing kilometer from the 35 degrees or so we faced in Kaduna.
Along the roadside were field upon field of dusty rows, with farmers
busily mounding the earth in preparation for the rains and the new
season. We saw little evidence of fallow anywhere, but lots of road
improvements and vibrant markets in small towns everywhere.
Jeff @ Jos
SETA Corporation Senior Analyst
USAID/M/IRM/CIS: Program Technology Transfer
[log in to unmask]
1325 G Street NW Suite 400
Washington, DC 20005 USA
Tel +1 (202) 219-0463
Fax +1 (202) 219-0518