Green IT

New app helps tackle tree threats in SA

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The polyphagous shot hole borer beetle is considered to be a great threat to the indigenous trees of SA.
The polyphagous shot hole borer beetle is considered to be a great threat to the indigenous trees of SA.

Cape Town-based software development company Solution House Software hopes to combat threats to trees in SA, through the introduction of its mobile and Web-based app.

The recently introduced polyphagous shot hole borer (PSHB) app was named after the PSHB beetle, an invasive pest considered to be a great threat to the indigenous trees of SA.

The beetle, which is associated with different types of fungi, was discovered a few years ago in Johannesburg and is believed to be behind the many infections identified across the major cities in SA.

Inspired by the PSHB epidemic discovery, Solution House says its PSHB app allows users to report beetle infestations and other types of tree infections within their area.

The app integrates with the company's Web-based incident desk, to collect geospatial data, enabling beetle infestations to be mapped and responded to by land rehabilitation and garden service providers or governing bodies.

"There are limited software solutions available to react to and map ecological infestation or epidemics," says Tiaan Janse van Rensburg, director of Solution House Software.

"A member of the public can log an infected tree incident on the app or on the incident desk .The app will then check the geo-location of the incident and specific type of incident that is logged. The system will then route the service request to the relevant service providers listed, who can then respond to and resolve the service request in real-time."

Users can report other types of tree threats on the app, which is available in both the Android and iOS app stores. It further verifies that the service provider was at the specified location and measures the amount of time spent on the job, Van Rensburg points out.

Heuristic Guru, a data scientist consultancy based in Johannesburg, provides the domain knowledge about the little-known infestation of the polyphagous shot hole borer beetle.

The company's founder, Hilton Fryer, discovered the PSHB beetle infestation in his garden following the death of a large tree last Christmas, and only through conversations with an arborist did he learn about the potentially devastating nature of the threat.

"PSHB is not a new threat, having devastated large tracts of trees in the US, Asia and the Middle East, and has been active in SA for several years, most prominently in Kynsna," explains Fryer.

"Unfortunately, most people don't know about the threat, how to identify it, and what to do about it. In Knysna, for example, the still-infested dead oak trees were cut up for firewood and offered to the public, resulting in the uncontrolled spread of the beetle."

Having reported the threat to Johannesburg City Parks earlier this year, Fryer set about finding better ways to tackle the problem by getting as much information to as many service providers, officials and the public as possible. This resulted in a chance meeting with Solution House, which offered the incident management platform as an effective tool against the threat.

"We needed a way to get service providers to talk to each other, and for the public to alert trusted service providers to the problem. An epidemic like PSHB is difficult to locate and contain," notes Van Rensburg.

While the incidents can be reported from anywhere in SA, service providers are limited to a few provinces. The next step is for Solution House to hold discussions with all the relevant role-players tasked with responding to the threat nationwide, concludes Van Rensburg.

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