[CAIRO] Farmers throughout the Middle East will benefit from a new collaboration between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) that aims to increase access to information on agricultural science to boost economic development and improve food security.
Under the five-year plan, announced in August, the Internet-based resources of the UAE's Agricultural Information Centre (UAE-AGRICENT) will expand into a resource for the entire Middle East region. The expansion will be done in coordination with the FAO's World Agricultural Information Centre (WAICENT).
The UAE centre will provide online information on topics including animal genetics, health hazards, safe breeding practices, plant science and production, and natural resource management. Additional services will include online training modules and an electronic newsletter.
Among the content to be developed is a comprehensive online database of animal quarantine practices. The Gulf Cooperation Council, comprising Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE, recently identified the creation of the database as a priority because of the mounting risks of animal disease epidemics from imported livestock.
According to Mohamed Al Eter, an assistant under-secretary at the UAE Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, the project aims to simplify the communication of important agricultural information and ensure that more farmers are able to access the online information easily.
Where no Internet infrastructure exists, methods of communication such as radio, television and print, could be used to get the online information to farmers, says Al Eter.
The UAE-AGRICENT already provides up-to-date information in Arabic and English on a wide variety of farming, fisheries, forestry, and food security topics. The centre's online interactive application 'Ask Agriculture' puts users throughout the Middle East directly in touch with experts to tackle specific issues quickly. The centre also plays an increasingly important role in issuing early warning reports on emergencies such as water shortages, and plant and animal disease outbreaks.
The collaboration with WAICENT means that these services will have a wider relevance to farmers throughout the Middle East.
"We are still a long way from our objective of e-agriculture, which aims to use information technology to reduce hunger and boost crop yields," says Francisco Perez-Trejo, FAO project coordinator and WAICENT's senior advisor. "But the electronic agricultural network is laying the foundations for a dynamic information platform in the Middle East."