Agriculture is intimately tied to its location in the landscape and, by extension, to key conditions strongly influenced by location, particularly climate, soil and water availability. This link to geospatial factors is probably stronger for agriculture than any other economic sector. Geospatial information is critical to good decision making throughout the agriculture sector – from farmers to input suppliers, researchers, extension agencies and policy makers. With rapid progress in information and communications technology, the potential for using spatial information in Africa to improve the livelihoods and productivity of poor farmers has never been greater.
Recognizing the importance of geospatial information, while acknowledging the inadequate access to existing geospatial data, tools, and analyses, especially in Africa, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation initiated its Geospatial Technology Program through the Agricultural Development initiative of its Global Development Program. AGCommons (Agricultural Geospatial Commons) was launched under the administrative oversight of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) in partnership with Spatial Development International.
The first nine months of 2009 were spent identifying opportunities and selecting the focus for AGCommons. The AGCommons team, working with a steering committee of subject matter experts covering agriculture and geospatial technology, conducted interviews, consultations and conferences that engaged more than 300 individuals across West and East Africa. The focus is now on developing and supporting an Africa-based service bureau that can provide innovation and expertise in the development, delivery and use of location-specific data and information services for improved decision making by smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as by the public institutions and private sector who serve them.
The AGCommons team has been hard at work identifying gaps in data, technology and services as well as determining potential clients, collaborators and funding sources to carry the Program into the future.
The Program is now seeking an established, Africa-based entrepreneur to lead and shape the future direction of this challenging information technology initiative.
The ideal candidate should have a strong entrepreneurial drive, a proven track record of successful business starts, and experience working in Africa. The ability to build and coordinate an effective team to develop the service bureau, deliver services and establish and maintain a technical platform are also necessary attributes.
Specifically the candidate should have:
- Technology domain expertise and a desire to apply that knowledge for economic and social benefit and/or the application of technology to agricultural development
- The ability to contribute or mobilize external resources to support the effort
- An understanding of the cultural dynamics of working and developing a business in Africa
- A proven track record of successfully running or operating a business or organization in Africa
- Domain knowledge of geospatial and mobile technology and/or the application of technology to agricultural development
The successful candidate will be involved in all aspects of the business, including staffing, business development, and financial accounting, as well as the overall vision and business direction. He or she will enjoy the partnership and support of committed donors and established institutions including The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and USAID. The ICT-KM Program of the CGIAR is providing transition leadership, and institutional support in forming the business and meeting administrative needs. In addition, NASA and RCMRD are technical partners in platform development and stakeholder outreach.
The most immediate tasks to be undertaken by AGCommons now include:
- Developing the infrastructure to broadly deliver and potentially collect geospatial information on a variety of platforms while providing a place to store and a means by which to share geospatial data, along with common solutions to achieve economies of scale and consistency across agriculture development projects
- Developing a business plan for the service bureau, engaging potential client partners to understand their requirements for geospatial services and establish working relationships
- Identifying strategic investment opportunities and potential co-funders for the business moving forward
- Defining and launching the venture and identifying core staff.
While these activities are being carried out over the transitional period by the Program team under the programmatic and administrative leadership of the CGIAR, the entrepreneurial AGCommons leader should be involved at an early stage to take ownership of the endeavor as it develops from a funded development initiative to an independent stand-alone business over the next several years.
The AGCommons team is seeking candidates for this extraordinary opportunity through the end of 2009 and will make a selection in early 2010.
Image courtesy of Nikola Chuhlev via http://www.sxc.hu