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Using PDAs in Bolivia to monitor organic crop production

25 June 2009

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Extension workers from the Bolivian farmers’organisation Fundación AUTAPO will soon use GPS-enabled PDAs to speed up the certifying process for the popular Quinoa crop, collect data to counteract the desertification process, and check and visualise crop production levels more easily.

The problem with quinoa…

Using PDAs in Bolivia to Monitor Organic Crop Production
Image credits: IICD / Bolivian researchers with PDAs can map the areas in which quinoa is grown.

Grown primarily for its edible seeds, quinoa is a highly nutritional, grain-like crop. The problem with the crop is that the plot of land where it is grown needs to ‘rest’ for four to five years at least. That is why farmers mostly have five plots of land but, due to the huge demand for quinoa, which can be sold for a very high price, they are inclined not to wait for the full five years, even though by cutting corners in this way they run the risk of making their soil infertile for growing quinoa in the future.

To certificate the quinoa and also to show the exact areas where quinoa is growing, and the plots of ground that are ‘resting’, the Fundación AUTAPO extension workers go into the different areas, talk to the local people, and collect data such as ‘How many people own the land?’, ‘How many acres of quinoa does a certain farmer possess?’ and ‘Which plots of land is he currently using?’.


The extension workers will be trained to operate a PDA that uses a version of the African Global Positioning System (GPS) field data collection system named CyberTracker. In Africa the system is used by park rangers to monitor the numbers of wildlife in a specific area. They type in how many animals they see, and any other relevant data. This is then linked automatically to the GPS so that it can show the exact area on the map which the ranger covered that day.

In Bolivia, twelve extension workers will use this combination of PDA and software that enables them to go to quinoa growing areas in the southwest of Bolivia, talk to farmers, store the information about the questions they pose to the farmers and locations on their PDA, and then take it back to their headquarters in La Paz to upload the data.

All the information that has been gathered can then be displayed on a map. Over the next five years this should lead to a greater understanding of the cultivation of quinoa and the desertification process.

The moment of truth

Although the training of extension workers starts at the end of this year, the software and hardware was already introduced to FAUTAPO in May.

Alfonso Acuña, Capacity Development Officer for Bolivia and Ecuador at IICD which is supporting the initiative, was present and carried out a small demonstration: “In May, the moment to decide whether we wanted to go through with the new system came for both IICD and our partner FAUTAPO. People seemed a bit conservative at first. They were used to writing down all the data manually and working with old GPSes. However, once they heard that questionnaires could also be filled in on the new PDA and that this could be linked directly to the GPS, they were very enthusiastic and saw it as a good way to speed up the process of certification.”

Source : IICD

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