Using Text Messages to Reduce Pollution

Using Text Messages to Reduce PollutionTurns out pesticides aren’t just bad for bugs and grubs. In Macedonia, the overuse of these chemicals was beginning to affect animals and humans living in the Prespa Lake Basin region of Resen.

To mitigate this problem, the UN tried to deploy more earth-friendly options, but they were having a serious problem spreading the word to the local farmers. Then, they turned to social media and mobile devices and found a whole new way to communicate.

An apple farmer in the Prespa Lake Basin named Eftim Petkovski says about the pests: “This is the one everyone knows from cartoons – the little worm in the apple…But it’s no joke, I can tell you – if we farmers don’t spray for them early on, all our livelihoods are at risk. Timing is everything with these pests. You’ve got to predict their migrations – and that can be a matter of hours. Spraying too early or too late is much less effective and a lot more expensive because you need bigger amounts – often as much as three times the quantity. And you can guess what that does to the environment.”

And we have definitely guessed.

Overusing these pesticides is the main source of pollution in the basin. This pollution threatens over two thousand species of birds, fish, and mammals, including some that are endangered. And while the UN has been working for several years to raise awareness and install more sustainable practices, which is great for both the farmers and the environment, until recently, it was very difficult to disseminate all of the information effectively and broadly. Apparently, Resen has no local media infrastructure, meaning that the program had to rely on flyers and word-of-mouth, neither of which are very efficient.

The solution needed to be inexpensive. And the solution they found was inexpensive. In order to save Resen’s delicate ecosystem, the UN Development Program only had to spend $1,000 for mobile phone alerts.

This is one of the SMS notifications that Petkovski has received through this program: “Apple trees in the area of the village of Rajca have been infected by the codling moth. The apple trees should be treated in the next 10 days. For more info, visit the Facebook page or call the Association of Farmers.” And he wasn’t the only one who got it. All of the farmers in the village got it, giving them a jumpstart on the moths.

The low operational costs and the simplicity of the actual operation is what makes this program perfect for the farmers of this region, and for potentially, the world. It would be very easy, the UN says, to implement in other communities of this kind around the world.