Mapping Our Future

Here is a video I came across detailing the recent meeting of the CGIAR consortium for spatial information, under the heading “Mapping our future”, carried out on March 31- April 4 2009 in ILRI Nairobi, Kenya.

Video features interviews with Mr. Srikant Vasan from the Gates Foundation, Mr. Todd Slind from CH2M, Mr. Andrew Jarvis from Biodiversity, CIAT, and Mr. Stanley Wood from IFPRI. The main topic discussed is location intelligence and its use for raising incomes and reducing the poverty for smallholder farmers. Mentioned are novel means of delivering geo-spatial information to farmers and constituents in developing countries, including the mobile technology channel, web applications and low tech delivery methods. Interviewees emphasize the current drive to deliver location-based information to farmers, extension workers, agricultural input and output traders, micro-finance institutions. Mr. Stanley Wood mentions presentation by Google Kenya who have created tools to search and navigate through web-based information. He stresses the need for the parallel alignment of the efforts and resources of private technology developers such as Google and research institutions such as IFPRI.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Mr.Andrew Jarvis summarises the current trend in geo-spatial technology to provide practical solutions to problems identified by social scientists and decision-makers. He mentions that the revolution in the use of mobile technology in Africa happened within 3-4 years, allowing the development of services such as Tradenet in West Africa and envsions a revolution in the use of geo-spatial technology. I personally am certain that location-based information delivered via mobile technology can greatly impact the efficiency of the food supply chain in African countries, thereby benefitting farmers, and facilitating the work of marketers and intermediaries.

See ICT KM Program and AGCommons for detailed information. AGCommons sets out for itself the following goals:

  • GOAL ONE: Discover how geospatial technology can improve farmer productivity and market access

Although 75 percent of the world’s poorest people live in rural areas in developing countries, only 4 percent of total government spending goes to supporting agriculture. Providing greater support for agriculture is a critical means of fighting poverty and hunger, as highlighted by the World Bank in its World Development Report 2008: Agriculture for Development. The World Bank concluded that investing in agriculture is four times more effective at reducing poverty than investments made elsewhere.

Agriculture can provide a pathway out of poverty, but only if productivity and access to markets increase. Agricultural success in sub-Saharan Africa depends on a farm’s location, in addition to land, soil, natural resources, and climactic conditions. Farmers need access to location-specific (geospatial) information to make better decisions about which crops to plant and when to harvest.

Location-specific (geospatial) information is not consistently produced in ways that are helpful and accessible to local farmers. These farmers, as the best sources of data about local conditions, also have no easy way to contribute to the information-gathering efforts. After soliciting feedback and input from smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and the agricultural aid communities, the AGCommons program will identify, develop, and implement helpful tools to help farmers gain timely information about their specific locations, enabling them to boost their productivity and improve access to markets.

  • GOAL TWO: Engage a community of interest to improve sharing and accessibility for location-specific information

During the first phase of the AGCommons program, we will engage a community of interest by reaching out to those in the agriculture development community—from farmers in the field to ministries of agriculture and aid organizations—to develop and prioritize innovative ideas to leverage geospatial technology. This will be accomplished through a series of community workshops in Africa, Rome, and the United States, followed by a methodical project prioritization process.

This community of interest will help the project team accomplish the following tasks:

· Identify critical gaps in existing geospatial technology
· Enable us to solicit and share potential high-impact solutions
· Select and deploy “quick win” projects in mid-2009 to build on existing work
· Confirm the use and value of geospatial technology services
· Establish ownership for these services
· Align existing geospatial technologies to better serve agriculture development
· Promote a set of best practices to help realize the highest potential value from geospatial investments

Engaging the people and organizations who will most benefit from this program will ensure a focus on providing the solutions most beneficial to the smallholder farmers.

  • GOAL THREE: Deliver high impact solutions that provide value to the “last 10 kilometers”

Although the AGCommons program will have wide-ranging benefits to economies of sub-Saharan countries and the agricultural community at large, the primary focus is on the end users, the smallholder farmers who rely on agriculture for their food and livelihoods. The driving force behind this program is to provide these farmers, many of them women, with easy-to-use, accessible, up-to-the-minute data that can help them make better decisions about how to farm their land, harvest their crops, and bring their harvest to market. The high-impact solutions could end up being databases, cell phone applications, or architecture or networks branching across reams of agricultural data; however, the farmers are the ones who give them meaning and utility. Engaging these farmers in identifying their greatest needs will ensure that we develop the most helpful solutions to improve their daily lives and incomes.

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