Monday, October 4, 2010
Scientists create a banana Wiki
Soon all information on banana in Africa including the banana growing areas, yield, socio-economic status of the farmers and spread of pests and diseases will be available at the click of a mouse thanks to a recently launched website (http://banana.mappr.info) that anybody working on the crop can contribute to.
The website, developed by Philippe Rieffel a student of Science in applied Geography at the University of Muenster, Germany under supervision of scientists at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), hopes to make a wide range of reliable spatial information on banana readily available to researchers, policy makers and development workers.
According to Hein Bouwmeester, a GIS specialist with IITA, currently the website is focusing on banana-growing areas in Africa but if successful, will expand to include the whole world.
He said the website was developed entirely with open source software and uses ‘crowdsourcing’ to build onto an existing geo-database.
“The idea behind ‘crowdsourcing’ is that currently no accurate geospatial data on bananas in Africa exist, so the platform will ‘outsource’ these data from the ‘crowd’ of local experts in Africa,” he said. "The core of the website is the editor that enables a user to view and edit banana growing areas and define their characteristics."
To guarantee accuracy and reliability, the site's creators will regularly check and correct the database. The current database and all approved previous versions can be downloaded by anyone, either as a GIS shapefile, a text file or a customized premade map.
According to Bouwmeester, the website is important as it will allow information to be shared across projects and organizations for research and development work.
The platform comes in handy as scientists are grappling with the spread of two deadly diseases that are ravaging the crop and threatening the livelihoods of millions farmers. These are the Banana Xanthomonas Wilt (BXW) and the viral Banana Bunchy Top Disease (BBTD).
One such scientist, Dr Fen Beed, an IITA plant pathologist lauded the initiative and encouraged researchers and development workers to share information on the platform to make it an information power house on banana.
’The more people with experience of local, national and regional banana production and its constraints contribute to the website, the more robust the data housed in this website will be,’ he said.
The data can be used as a baseline reference to monitor the impact of any interventions or changes in practice such as disease control strategies.