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It’s No Longer Business as Usual – An Interview with Peter Ndunda

When Peter Ndunda attended the recent AfricaGIS Conference in Kampala, Uganda, he was a man on a mission. He wanted to find out how geospatial technology and information could help grassroots communities in Sub-Saharan Africa. As an AGCommons ambassador, he knows that the initiative he represents has a potentially huge role to play in the region, but he wanted to hear about it firsthand.

Much of Peter’s passion to help grassroots communities can be traced back to his own humble origins in Kenya and his work with the Green Belt Movement. In his homeland, he has seen many smallholder farmers in a state of confusion. Climatic changes mean they no longer know the best time to plant their crops, or when to expect the rains and for how long they will last; a bleak scenario that is replicated across much of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Despite the gloomy picture, Peter feels AGCommons can help increase food productivity in the region. He strongly believes that timely geospatial data can help smallholder farmers make informed decisions and prevent a possible food crisis next year.

The ICT-KM Program caught up with Peter after his return from Kampala to talk about his experiences at the Conference.

What was your role at the AfricaGIS Conference?

As a member of the AGCommons steering committee, I wanted to reach out to the African community, specifically the people who are working in the agricultural sector and related fields. I wanted to listen to their views and find out if they think geospatial technology can make a difference to their work. My role was to inform them of the work AGCommons is already doing and let them know how we might be able to help. I spoke to various organizations that work on the ground, at grassroots as well as the regional level, to find out if they need support from institutions providing geospatial information. Most of them were able to discuss their needs very specifically.

Is AGCommons in a position to fulfil those needs?

One underlying component, which almost all the people we met iterated, is that geospatial technology has a role to play. There is a need for reliable and accurate information. Indeed, there is an urgent need for basic information, such as when to expect the rains, how much [rains] and when farmers should be advised to plant their crops. Many people talked about the way maps could make a huge difference in terms of food productivity in the region.  These people don’t even have good soil maps; maps that can help them decide what to plant and where. AGCommons is designed to support the delivery of the necessary data sets and information to help these people. Indeed, it is currently developing a plan that will outline how to package the information and data sets required by the communities, so that it actually reaches them in an accessible way.

Are these communities confined to Uganda or are they spread across the Sub-Saharan region?

Definitely across the region. I met with a group from Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya… and they all talked about the same things: food productivity, climate change, etc. They want to know how the rainfall patterns are changing, and how to move to the next level of shifting so as to adapt to climate change as well as increase their food productivity and returns from their produce. It’s a complete shift from the way they used to do things, but without the data and information to help them, it will be almost impossible.

How would AGCommons obtain this data?

AGCommons could decide to take the data from existing institutions and just deal with the delivery aspect. A lot of vital data already exists, but it exists in scattered pockets. This is of no use to the institutions if they don’t get it to the right people: small holder farmers (producers), suppliers of agricultural inputs and consumers (market). Or AGCommons could mine the data, especially where the data does not exist, and have it delivered to the communities and other institutions that directly engage with the communities.

Extension workers and the marketing sector also need to be empowered with the right information, otherwise it’s impossible for them to advise the grassroots people how to go about the implementation and the scaling up of sustainable agricultural practices. At the end of the day, it’s about increased food productivity and linking the farmers to the market.

Would the supply of this information be self-sustaining in some way?

The idea is to develop a business plan to ensure that AGCommons is self sustaining. It should not depend on donations forever.

Would you say that most of the concerns voiced at the Conference are tied in with climate change right now?

Yes, for now. Although some people did not specifically refer to it as “climate change”, they are concerned, because people are no longer able to rely on history. They are finding it more and more difficult to predict the weather and make their decisions based on their past experiences. As such, people need geospatial data to support the decisions they want to make. That was the most important thing I took away from the Conference.

This is the right time for AGCommons to support the agricultural and food production sectors, because they are all looking for reliable location specific information. They want to know what is happening in their community now and what is going to happen in the coming months, they want to be able to look forward and predict supply and demand.

Was AGCommons well received at the Conference?

Yes, because AGCommons will support the institutions already working on spatial information to deliver this data to the people who need it most. We now need to make sure that this information is exposed to those who need it. People generally feel that AGCommons does have a role to play, but it will be a complementary role. We can all work towards the same goal, which is to support the smallholder farmers and help eradicate poverty. Those are very important goals that all of us want to see achieved.

How did you get involved with AGCommons?

I work for the Green Belt Movement, which has some goals in common with AGCommons. AGCommons provides another avenue for developing countries to be able to achieve the goal of eradicating poverty. Since most of the countries in Africa rely on agriculture for their income and food production, it’s almost impossible for us to expect our countries and our people to get out of poverty if we do not support them to increase and improve their food productivity. And that’s exactly what AGCommons is all about. This is the only way out in Sub-Saharan Africa. It’s a complete mind shift. It’s no longer a case of business as usual.

If we can get the sort of information AGCommons can provide to the right people, it will make a huge difference as to whether we’re going to have a food crisis next year or not. So that just shows the huge role AGCommons has to play.

AGCommons is an initiative implemented by the ICT-KM Program. Click here for our new AGCommons video.