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African Geospatial Week: Nairobi 31 March–4 April, 2009 – why is it important?

Three-quarters of Africa’s food is produced in the often remote rural areas by small-holder farmers who largely rely on their instincts in deciding what and when to plant, weed and harvest their crops.

These farmers have seen their entire season’s crop wiped out by unexpected droughts, floods, frosts, diseases and pests. Even in the best of harvests, they still lose substantial amounts of their produce due to poor road networks, and do not get the best prices in the absence of up-to-date market and price information.

Research has found that a farm’s location greatly affects its chance for success and productivity. Providing farmers with location-specific (geospatial) information on their soils, the best crops, the most appropriate farming techniques and which markets are offering the most competitive prices, presents an effective way to maximize their crop yields and market access, thereby improving livelihoods and reducing uncertainties in production.

To address challenges and opportunities in these areas, the Consortium on Spatial Information (CSI), of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) , the world’s largest alliance on agriculture research, in partnership with the newly launched “Geospatial Technology for Agricultural Development in Africa” Program (AGCommons) , has organized the African Geospatial Week, to be held in Nairobi 31 March – 4th April, 2009.

The week will include three events : the CGIAR-CSI 2009 Annual Meeting, a two-day workshop on the AGCommons Program and finally the WhereCampAfrica day: the first event of its kind to be held in Africa.

With the theme “Mapping our Future 2009-2014: Collective Action and Advocacy to Improve Spatial Solutions for Sustainable Development”, the CGIAR-CSI Annual Meeting will open the week. Recognizing the importance of geospatial information to agriculture decision making and the inadequate access to data, tools and analyses, especially in Africa, what role can CSI play in helping its members best tap new opportunities in the geospatial arena to foster action around improving the packaging and delivery of CSI data, tools and analysis to a broader range of users? This is the question that will be addressed by this gathering of geospatial scientists and researchers from within the CGIAR Centers and key technology and development partners.

The primary goal of the AGCommons Program is to identify and develop data, tools and services that deliver relevant, timely and targeted information directly to farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa and those working on their behalf. Developing specific recommendations on strategic opportunities to the AGCommons Program will be the theme of the AGCommons workshop. Phase I of the Program is underway with consultation activities underway in Africa and the implementation of five “Quick Win” projects; the workshop will provide guidance for planning the second Phase of the Program (2010-2012).

With real-time, location-specific information, farmers will be able to plan and decide more effectively which crops or livestock will perform best on their farms, anticipate and manage disease outbreaks and rainfall shortfalls, as well as decide when to harvest and to which markets to sell. The farmers’ rich knowledge on various aspects of farming will feed into the upcoming information toolkit in AGCommons that will deploy high-tech geospatial technology to the service of Africa’s farmers.

WhereCamp Africa is the closing event of the week: it is a free “un-conference” for geographers, mobile location experts and social cartographers and anyone interested in “place” or locational information and technologies.

The idea comes from FooCamp and BarCamp as a way to give everybody an opportunity to bring to the table the things that interest them the most and lets them talk about topics that are still new and exploratory. Part of what is important to hearing new voices and getting new ideas is lowering barriers to participation – this event is free and it is driven by the participants. Wherecamp will bring together software developers, artists, geographers and academics for a one day extended discussion, as an opportunity to present on ideas, questions, projects, politics, technical issues and get feedback from other people.

Society is being transformed by new maps and new mapping technology. WhereCampAfrica is an opportunity to help create a free forum in Africa for people to talk about, present, explore and learn about projects that involve “place” and relevant technologies.

With over 100 participants expected, the African geospatial week will be held at John Vercoe Conference Room, ILRI Headquarters, Nairobi, Kenya