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The tool, which has been launched by agricultural research institutions AfricaRice and the Centre for International Cooperation in Agronomic Research for Development (CIRAD), can be accessed online and offline on laptops and CD-ROMs or as an application on smartphones and tablet computers.
People such as researchers, students and farmers can use the tool to identify weed species that affect the rice farming lowlands in East and West Africa.
"The tool works through a schematic image of a [weed] plant where, for different plant parts, you can select shape, colour and other characteristics," according to AfricaRice weed scientist Jonne Rodenburg. "By selecting characteristics for different [weed] plant parts, the number of likely species gradually decreases."
After identifying the specific weed, he said, users can use a database to select appropriate interventions. "The tool will guide the user to information on its biology, ecology and management," he said. "The database contains species-specific weed management advice. In most cases, the advice is categorised according to weed categories. For instance, broad-leaved weeds, grasses, sedges, parasitic weeds, aquatic weeds, perennial weeds and annual weeds."
People with specific questions, Rodenburg told SciDev.Net when journalists attending the First West Africa Science Journalists Conference last month (26-28 November) visited AfricaRice’s headquarters, can also access online weed science network Weedsbook for more documents and the possibility to interact with weeds scientists across the continent or even around the world.
The researchers, who worked in close collaboration on the project with the African Weeds of Rice project financed by the European Union and the Africa Caribbean Pacific Science and Technology Programme, took three years to produce the tool.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, weeds cause estimated annual rice production losses of at least 2.2 million tonnes and US$1.45 billion, equivalent to 10 million hectares of rice annually, said Rodenburg.
But Antoine Adidéhou, permanent secretary of the Council of Rice Farmers in Benin said that many rice that farmers lacked the computer skills or Internet access and so would find it hard to make use of this valuable resource.
"They will have some difficulties in trying to make good use of this tool," he said.