Check out these terms for a snapshot of the breadth of conversation at the Consortium for Spatial Information (CSI) and AGCommons Conferences held at ILRI in Nairobi, March 31 – April 3.

1. Neo-Geography. Use of the interactive, web-based geographic tools such as Google Earth and Map Maker. Rather than presenting a static map, these new approaches allow–in fact encourage—users to interrogate, manipulate, and upload content to them. Within weeks of Map Maker’s release, whole cities and countries that had never been digitally mapped, suddenly had settlements and road networks mapped by users. Related to “crowd-sourcing,” see below. For outstanding examples, check out http://sites.google.com/site/mapmakeruserhelp/Great-Maps-by-map-makers.

2. The last ten kilometres. Coined by AGCommons to emphasize this organization’s mandate of going the extra mile, so to speak, to get farming information directly to people who can use it. It’s the notion that agricultural information should not sit in research centres but must benefit farmers and farm communities—including the suppliers, buyers, extension agents and others who serve them.
“Even if we design a breeding program, or a change of policy, it has to have impact at that level to be a focus of AGCommons,” says AGCommons Steering Committee member Stanley Wood, Senior Research Fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and coordinator of CSI.

3. Crowd-sourcing. Harnessing the energy and enthusiasm of laypeople to provide masses of data for a particular application. See the neo-geography tool, Open Street Map. To improve the mapping of road networks, people walk or drive around with a GPS, come back and plug the data into their computer, then upload to the server in a standardized format. “It’s a fantastic and low-cost way to obtain large amounts of data,” says Wood. “The potential downside is quality control. You can overcome some of that by sheer numbers though. Like a Wiki, it’s essentially self-moderated.”

4. RustMapper. One of a number of computer applications that map –and help predict– the movement of important crop, human, or livestock diseases. Based on Google Earth and developed by the Global Rust Initiative, RustMapper software tracks a virulent strain of wheat stem rust—a disease that has plagued wheat farmers for millennia. A new type, Ug99, appeared in Uganda in 1999 and threatens global wheat supplies, since an estimated 80 percent of current wheat cultivars are thought to be susceptible. Spores travel on the wind, so the software includes wind patterns. RustMapper has been eerily on target, correctly predicting the disease’s entry from Uganda and Kenya into Ethiopia, Yemen, and Iran so far. More info RustMap.

5. Quick Wins. Awards recently presented by AgCommons to organizations working on spatial intelligence for a concrete product that delivers site-specific information to farmers. An example would be a phone hotline for farmers for cropping advice. See other blog entries for more on the five winning Quick Win projects, each of which are being developed within six to nine months. Description of the QuickWins can be found here

6. Drunk genes. A model of how genetic diversity spreads through the environment, since genetic movement initially seems erratic and unpredictable, like a drunk man trying to get home. For instance, maize spread from its origins in MesoAmerica, down the Andes, into North America, and ultimately across the world. Behind the seeming chaos lie environmental suitability, geography, trade, and cultural practices.

7. Potato Park: A 15,000 ha “living gene bank” near Cusco in the Peruvian Andes. Established by the International Potato Centre (CIP) in collaboration with local farmer’s groups, Potato Park is growing and therefore conserving hundreds of types of potatoes, including newly developed varieties, plus other types of Andean root and tuber crops. “They’re beautiful,” says CIP researcher Lieven Claessens “Some are amazing colours—purple, orange, pink—with strange shapes. It’s even become a tourist attraction—providing the local villagers with extra income in addition to working there.” Potato Park also provides food the six communities that jointly own the land. The first of its kind, the agreement aims to ensure that the control of genetic resources is kept with local people. For more details on Potato Park.

8. Index of hazard: A ranking of places at higher risk for a particular hazard, e.g. soil erosion or bird flu. Specialists use geospatial information to assess 1) the risk by location and 2) the vulnerability of populations to the risk, by location. Where high threat overlaps with high vulnerability—you have a high hazard rating, or hotspot. For instance, you’d have a hotspot for bird flu where you have a wild goose flyway overlapping a highly populated place with poultry markets.

9. Biogeomancer tools: Software for adding spatial specifics to place names. For instance, you could “biogeomance” all the place names in a series of research reports to come up with a map of all the places referenced in those reports, plus geographical and ecological data about those places. Then you could easily find site specifics and what work has been done at any particular site. Start with http://www.biogeomancer.org.

10. QuickBird : a commercial satellite that takes images of 0.5 metre resolution. It’s expensive—but the highest resolution image currently available. Close your curtains!

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