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‘Navigating the Change’- Mapping out the role of spatial information in ARD


If you don’t  know where you are going, any road will take you there

These wise words were spoken to Alice by the Cheshire Cat when she was trying to move around in Wonderland, but serve as a good addage to many of us when we are thinking about the future.

For the Consortium for Spatial Information (CSI) of the CGIAR as well as more than 80 people from over 60 organisations all involved and interested in geospatial activities in agriculture, the 2nd Africa Agriculture Geospatial Week (AAGW10) gave them an opportunity to come together, share ideas, information and experiences and to ‘map’ out their future contribution to agricultural research and development.

The 2nd Africa Agriculture Geospatial Week was held 8th-12th June 2010, at ILRI Campus, Nairobi, Kenya, and was opened by the Minister of Agriculture of Kenya, represented by her Assistant Minister Hon Japhet Mbiuki.

Aptly themed ‘Navigating the Change’ the AAGW10 focused on taking a closer look at the role of spatial information and analysis in suporting improved agricultural research and development.We know where we want to go–to provide innovative, collective geospatial services that can be applied to agricultural research and development – and during this week we will try to figure out how to get there” said Stanley Wood (IFPRI), Coordinator of the CGIAR-CSI group, at the beginning of the week.

Just as with any good GIS approach, we needed to develop a number of key data layers before being able to carry out a strong analysis, and then to present the results–and this is the process that the AAGW10 followed.

Developing data layers.

The AAGW10 started on Tuesday 8th June 2010 afternoon with a ‘Business as UNusual’ session focusing on the innovative concept and work of the AgCommons project.  Four out of the five Quick-Win projects were presented, showcasing not only interesting geospatial technologies and approaches, but also highlighting key ways in which these can be applied and made to serve the needs of those in the last 10 Km.

On Wednesday 9th June 2010, the program was geared towards ‘Understanding our own location’ which included learning about the activities, approaches and ideas of the CGIAR-CSI repesentatives from 12 out of the 15 CGIAR centres. Some key approaches we heard and learned about were:

  • Methods for downscaling of climate data
  • Recommendation domains
  • Targeting and priority setting methods
  • Impact assessment methods
  • Poverty and Agriculture methods and maps
  • Plant modelling
  • Mapping crops, soils, rainfed/irrigated areas
  • MODIS remote sensing

On Thursday 10th June 2010 the workshop ‘Charted Unknown waters’ through presentations from people from various organisations and discussions in 4 Cluster groups. Alot of interesting approaches and information emerged on this day.

In Cluster 1: Use of Remote Sensing and GIS for enhancing food security, Andries Potgieter, QLD Primary Industries Australia, presented methods for identifying “hot spots” in south eastern Africa where sustainable intensification of maize-legume based farming systems for food security is likely to have the highest impact in terms of relieving food security and poverty issues.

In Cluster 2: Mapping for Decision Support, Mikel Maron from Open StreetMap presented Map Kibera which is the first public digital map of Kibera Community in Nairobi, Kenya, widely known as Africa’s largest slum. Once a blank spot on the map, it was felt that without basic knowledge of the geography and resources of Kibera it was impossible to have an informed discussion on how to improve the lives of residents. This was rectified by the co-creation with the comunity of an open and free map.

Paolo Paron, Oxford University Fellow, and his found ‘treasure’ were highlights in Cluster 3: Understanding the Basics, where we learned of the proposed use of old aerial photographs stored in Oxford University in combination with current images and data to explore key environmental and social changes over time in certain African countries.

‘Closing the final kilometer: agricultural information to the grower’ a tools-based presentation by John Corbett, aWhere Inc. provided interesting insight and direct experience with key tools for ‘Location-based intelligence to enhance farmer knowledge’, as was the theme of Cluster 4.

Undertaking the right analysis

After being exposed to such a wide range of tools, methods and approaches and how they are being used by different organisations for different purposes, it was now time to see how these could be applied to key areas of agricultural research for development. Given that a structured set of ARD research areas have recently been identified for the ‘new CGIAR’ by a wide range of stakeholders and are currently in a process of iteration of these into full programs, it was decided to use this as the framework.

The new CGIAR Consortium Research program is currently defined by 7 Mega programs and 2 Cross-cutting Platforms. There will also be certain shared services developed in a way to function across the various research programs. The key analysis activity during AAGW10, therefore, was to see which geospatial information and approaches could/would be of service to the 7 research areas as well as what would be useful within a shared services model.

The Mega programs include:

  • Shared Services
  • MP1: Integrated agriculture systems for the poor and vulnerable
  • MP2: policies, instituions,a nd markets for enabling agricultural incomes for the poor
  • MP3: Sustainable staple food productivity increase for global food security
  • MP4: Agriculture, nutrition and health
  • MP5: Water soils and ecosystems
  • MP6: Forests and trees
  • MP7: Climate Change

Divided into 8 groups, through random handing out of numbers, the participants were tasked with moving around the auditorium to the 8 stations- 7 megaprograms and 1 shared services- where large flip chart sheets were placed on the walls. At each station groups were asked to develop a list of geospatial tools, methods, approaches and information which could be useful to the particular topic. This ‘download’ exercise was extremely energetic and enthusiastic, with the lists extending onto multiple flip chart sheets of paper.

On the following day this was repeated but with instructions for the groups to think more carefully about which actors-both CGIAR and other partners- could provide such services and write these down too.

Presenting the results

The results from the week have been reported on an ongoing basis through a number of social media outlets. Microblogging through Twitter gave short snippets of what was going on at AAGW10, provided links to projects and tools presented, and even showed some images. Tweets were tagged with #aagw10 and can be found on ICTKM Twitter account and AgCommons Twitter account. A number of blog posts providing more details about activities and presentations during the week can be found on the ICT-KM website.  To catch a glimpse of what it was like at AAGW10 check out some photos too. Presentations will also be made available on Slide Share linked to the various channels above.

More documentation of the workshop and the  role of geospatial servcies for supporting ARD defined during AAGW10 will also be made available in the channels shown above.

Photo credit: Image of Alice and the Cheshire Cat thanks to http://www.artistcommentary.com