Regional participants of the Crop Modelling training held at USP with Dr Upendra Singh (4th from left) from IFDC.
A group of agricultural researchers from the Pacific recently participated in the first-ever regional training on the use of a crop modelling software which has been used to help farmers globally.
The Decision Support System for Agro-Technology Transfer, or DSSAT as it is known, is a crop simulation software that contains 28 crop models which includes plants such as rice, cassava, taro, sugarcane, potato and maize.
“Basically what you are doing is growing a crop on the computer,” said Dr Upendra Singh, a soil scientist from the International Fertiliser Development Centre (IFDC), who was invited to conduct the five-day training.
“So you provide all the information that is similar, if not identical, to what you are providing if you were growing a crop out in the fields, soil type, weather and crop management techniques and it will see how well the variety of your crop will grow under those conditions,” he elaborated.
The training, which was organised by the Pacific Centre for Environment and Sustainable Development (PACE-SD) at the University of the South Pacific, was held on 19 - 23 June, 2012.
Dr Singh explained that by using this software it will reduce the amount of time spent out in the field for instance when trying out a new variety of taro. He added that what could possibly take three months in the field takes milliseconds on the computer by using DSSAT.
The training was attended by 25 participants from several research centres such as the Korinivia and Sigatoka Agriculture Research Stations in Fiji, the Sugar Research Centre in Lautoka, as well as researchers from USP’s Alafua Campus in Samoa, Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Fiji National University and regional climate change research students from USP, who are currently using the DSSAT model for their Master of Science research work.
Facilitators also included PACE-SD’s research fellows in Climate Change, Mr Viliamu Iese and Dr Morgan Wairiu, who have incorporated the use of DSSAT in their research at the Centre, and initiated this collaboration to introduce the model to other researchers in the region.
“It is a tool that assists communities in making decisions on which crop they should plant and how to maximize profit for food security and economic growth amongst the many uncertainties that affect the agriculture industry,” said Mr Iese.
DSSAT has been used in over 100 countries by researchers, educators, consultants, growers, and policy and decision makers for more than 30 years, and is finally seeing a resurgence in the Pacific after a failed attempt 20 years ago, which according to Dr Singh, was mainly due to lack of funding and skilled trainers.
“So there is a revival now with several different groups that are interested in DSSAT modelling, and the resurgence of modelling has also come about due to environmental concerns, particularly climate variability and change as modelling is one of the tools that allow us to see what the impacts of climate change are, and the changes we are expecting in our crop production that will threaten our food security.”
Dr Singh said the model was applicable to industries such as sugarcane farming that were currently under threat from low yield and plummeting market prices.
“So DSSAT is very important when you start dealing with crop diversification, for instance sugar is an issue now. Should we grow something else in some of the sugar cane areas? What will be the most profitable crop to grow there, you may think of a profitable crop as saffron for instance, which is very expensive. But, will it grow in Fiji? Before you make a million dollar investment you need to check it out using available tools like crop models.”
The training was a part of the AusAID Future Climate Leaders Project (FCLP) and also supported by US Department of State Award.
FCLP Coordinator, Mr Sumeet Naidu said the initiative was part of the project’s objective to promote research and education in the Pacific, which would enable the region to better adapt to the impacts of climate change.