AGCommons, the program led by the ICT-KM Program to provide location-specific (geospatial) information to smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa with the goal of improving productivity and livelihoods, will be present at the Africa GIS Conference 2009 in Kampala, Uganda (25-30 October), to inform participants about its development as an Africa-based service bureau and its Quick Win Projects.

In conjunction with the Conference, AGCommons will organize WhereCampAfrica-Kampala to be held on 30 October. After the success of WhereCamp Africa-Nairobi, this will be the second gathering of its kind to take place in Africa and the first one in Kampala.

WhereCamp, a free ‘unconference’ for geogeographers, mobile location experts, social cartographers and all kinds of folks interested in place, is an opportunity for participants to present ideas, questions, projects, politics, and technical issues that people have – and contribute to and get feedback from other participants. More information at www.agcommons.org and www.wherecampafrica.org.

Wondering how high resolution imagery can help smallholder farmers? The SIBWA – Seeing is Believing West Africa, one of the AGCommons quick win projects, blog series can help you find the answer.

VHRIex2: Mindsets & Skillsets to entrust smallholders with Very High Resolution Imagery- A manifesto against top-down approaches

REMEMBER ROME? They conquered Greece (with their warfare), and then the Greeks conquered the Romans (with their culture). Meaning, successful confrontation of know-how and know-ledge is always a two-way street. You trade technology for expertise. Insights for forethoughts. MOTIVES FOR CLUES. Read more…

SIBWA hits a home run with H.E. the Minister of Agriculture of Mali

H.E. Agathane Ag Alassane, the Minister of Agriculture of Mali toured the IER-Sotuba Regional Agronomic Research Center on Thursday 24 September as part of a preparatory site visit for the upcoming October AGRA-PASS General Meetings in Bamako, Mali. The AGRA-PASS General Meetings will involve a side visit by Kofi Annan and several West African Heads of State to IER-Sotuba, including a planned stop at SotubaGIS where the SIBWA project is housed. Read more…

VHRIBox….Very High Resolution? Veritably a huge revolution!

Remote sensing has had to offer an ever-growing wealth of information to monitor land processes and vegetation. From optical indices that intercept photosynthesis, to thermal sensors that sip out water stress, to microwaves that carve out canopy structure. But stay tuned. THE major operational breakthrough of this decade is, with no doubt… CRISPINESS. Without CRISPINESS, you wouldn’t see your cat in your driveway (okay, okay, your car). Without CRISPINESS, Google Earth wouldn’t exist. Without CRISPINESS, geography would remain an academic fantasy. Without CRISPINESS, you cannot relate to the people on the ground. You cannot relate to your neighbors. You cannot relate to yourself… well, wait a minute. Of course you can, but without optical depth. Read more…

Source: www.agcommons.org

Francesca Pelloni

Francesca Pelloni

Life is a balancing act. Finding an equilibrium that works for you, your family and your friends is often difficult to achieve. And no one knows this better than AGCommons Project Officer Francesca Pelloni. After a five-year hiatus of sorts from the hectic world of IT project management, she is back with a well-grounded enthusiasm for her career and a strong sense of purpose that will surely benefit the Project.

“I took a break from full time work because, like so many people these days, I found myself working from morning till night, with little time or energy left to devote to myself or my family,” she explains. “Although I did do some consultancy work during the past five years, I basically took the time away to discover what I wanted out of life.”

Fortunately for the ICT-KM Program, Francesca was planning to resume her career at a time when the Program had just committed to manage a new project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: AGCommons.

When Francesca talks about the AGCommons Project, her passion is palpable. “It’s certainly challenging to work on a big project again, but I’m excited about the possibilities,” she says. It’s great to be involved in something that has the potential to impact so many lives in Africa.”

This project officer also has a thirst for knowledge that goes beyond the information necessary to carry out her job well.

“I love learning about new things,” she says. “Although I wasn’t a complete stranger to geographical information systems when I came on board, I’ve learned so much about this technology, and this has given me a greater insight into how such systems impact most of our lives on a daily basis, sometimes without us even realizing it. Each project I’ve managed in the past has enlightened and enriched my life in a similar way. That’s one of the things I love about being a project manager.”

An insatiable thirst for knowledge is sometimes indicative of someone who is not afraid to embrace change and challenges; something that holds true for this native of Rome.

“I got into project management quite by accident,” she says. “I majored in humanistic studies and political relations at university, then got married and had my daughter. When I entered the work force a year later, it was as an assistant to the Managing Director of the Inter Press Service (IPS), an international agency that focused on the third world, as developing countries were referred to back then. At that time, the organization had offices in 90 countries, and I helped coordinate their ICT activities. That was the start of my project management career.”

In 1995, Francesca joined the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), where she was involved in a project that was responsible for equipping the organization’s field offices with email.

“I was there for two years,” she says, “and I’m amazed when I look back and realize that FAO offices have only had email for 14 years. It seems like it’s been around forever.”

After her stint at FAO, Francesca moved to Milan to manage other IT projects of a different nature and in a different environment, with a company in the private sector, after which she made the decision to move to the countryside to lead a simpler, less chaotic life.

“It was an interesting time,” she says, recalling the move. “I suddenly found myself with a completely different rhythm. Having the whole day at my disposal to do as I pleased was yet another new experience. I learned a lot of different things during my time away: I learnt about plants and how to grow flowers and vegetables, horse riding, piano lessons and belly dancing. I also took time to travel and indulged in my passion for cooking.  I can now make a mean Ravioli di Magro, even if I say so myself.”

She adds, “I love to eat. I don’t think you can cook well if you don’t love to eat.”

The same passion that Francesca has in the kitchen is also reflected in her enthusiasm for her new role in the workplace; something that’s bound to have a positive effect on the AGCommons Project. 

 

At the recent CSI-AGCommons-WhereCampAfrica event in Nairobi we interviewed some of the participants to get their perspectives on why maps are important, on their role in the response to climate change, on their use in recent crises….

Why maps? is a video produced by a Nairobi-based crew to help highlight the value of geospatial technology in agriculture.

Andy Jarvis

Andy Jarvis

An interview with Andy Jarvis, agricultural geographer, CIAT and Bioversity

Q: You say you have two “mantras.” What are they?

A: One is “crop wild relatives.” (Note: A crop wild relative (CWR) is the wild variety of a domesticated food crop.) When you look at the status of crop wild relatives, it’s actually very scary. They’re not conserved in the wild. And the degree of conservation in gene banks is appallingly low. Many have gone extinct already—and we have no idea what genes they might have had—for disease resistance, productivity, drought or salt tolerance….

At the same time, there’s exponential growth in the demand for and use of these genes through biotechnology. In the past, when you bred a wild crop relative with a cultivar you might get what you wanted—say disease resistance—but along with that came a tough seed coat or small pod or other things you don’t want. Now, you can use molecular markers to take just what you want.

Q: If they’re not in the genebanks, how do you find wild crop relatives?

A: We’ve been going through 30 major crop genepools, including beans, potatoes, wheat, rice, sorghum, cassava, some forages, coffee…. We collect all available information, through herbarium and genebank databases, of every point where wild crop relatives have been observed. Then we model the species distribution see what all these habitats have in common, to come up with suitability requirements.

So if, for instance, we know something exists in ten sites with these characteristics—where else in the world has those characteristics? That’s where you’re likely to find the species.

Q: For example…?

A: Geneticists were searching for wild chili peppers in Paraguay. We found records of 18 places with chili populations in the past, but they weren’t there any more, nor in collections So we modeled the conditions in the sites the botanists had described—and came up with 20 places with similar environments where people might look. It worked–they found the chilis in seven of those places.

In beans, there are 70-plus wild species, all in the Americas. There are 170-plus wild relatives of potatoes. But in lots of crops—maize being one of the most notable—there are just a few wild relatives left. Most of the species have been lost.

A massive global initiative is urgent for our major crops. That’s what the Global Crop Diversity Trust, housed at FAO, is trying to do.

Q: And the other mantra?

A: Climate change and crops. We’ve taken the 50 biggest crops, by area, and modeled how climate change will change their geography. After the biggest—rice, maize, wheat and a couple of others—no one has done this. We’re using a simple, niche-based approach: this crop grows in an environment with this rainfall and other characteristics, based on expert knowledge.

The shocking thing is that there are huge changes, for both 2020 and 2050. For instance, the models show that maize goes way down in Africa. But cassava gains area. Already, there’s anecdotal evidence of farmers shifting from maize to cassava or sorghum.

In a few areas farmers will lose all sorts of options. Maybe today they have 20 crop options; in the future, maybe they’ll only have 3. Some regions are in serious trouble: Southern Africa. Parts of Sahel. Eastern Brazil, northern Africa and the Mediterranean, including southern Europe.

But in East Africa—the rainy parts, such as most of Uganda—massive increases in rainfall are predicted. So farmers may have more choices. And they may be able to crop continuously. But the models show that pests and diseases also rise.

The bottom line is that everything’s changing, and quickly. The first users of climate-change information should be researchers themselves. Most agricultural research programs take at least 10 years to come to fruition out in the fields. So researchers need to target a 2020 world for their 2020 research results—not work toward better strategies for a 2009 world in 2020.

Q: Why do you call yourself a “promiscuous geographer?”

A: I use the same geographic tools—but apply them to all sorts of things: what we’ve been talking about, plus forest biodiversity, coffee quality, forage, threats to protected areas…. I’m interested in so many things, I seem to need to keep moving around.

You can hear Andy’s perspective on BBC Digital Planet – available at ICT-KM Blog on Famers’ productivity

CJ Terborgh 

 

CJ Terborgh

An interview with Carmelle J. Terborgh, Federal/Global Affairs team lead, ESRI at the Africa Geospatial technology for Agriculture week in Nairobi

Context:

Launched 40 years ago as a consulting and research firm, ESRI created the first commercial geographic information software, ArcInfo. Since then, geographical information system (GIS) solutions have found use in at least 40 industries– from environmental management to epidemiology; agriculture to transportation; disaster response to demining.

ESRI and the CGIAR centres enjoy a close and longstanding relationship. It’s easy to see how the CG benefits: The memorandum of understanding with ESRI provides CGIAR centres with a number of licenses for software, plus technical support, training and professional development opportunities for a fraction of their commercial cost.

In her interview, ESRI’s Carmelle Terborgh describes, among other things, the arrangement from her company’s point of view.

Q: Why focus on GIS?

A: Our founder and president, Jack Dangermond, likes to say: When humans first developed a microscope, we could see things smaller than we could otherwise. GIS is a “macroscope.” Now we can see bigger parts of the world than we could without it. You can only see 13 miles on flat terrain. But the macrosocope gives you a way to understand the world in a way you could never experience from one location. You can sit in Nairobi, say, and see the world.

Q: How do you view the CGIAR?

We want to support people working in agriculture, food security, livestock—their work is critical, and we can’t do it ourselves. We support a number of conservation, humanitarian, educational programs.

As far as the CGIAR goes, we feel honoured that CGIAR centres are using this.

Jack and Laura (Jack’s wife and VP) have a passion for seeing these tools applied for really good purposes. When you see a huge need, you just have to respond.

Q: Any big event coming up for geospatial specialists to get together?

A: We like to convene the people who are using our software and give them a forum. We host the ESRI International User Conference–this year it’s July 13-17 in San Diego. It’s a really good professional development opportunity for CG staff. Usually representatives from about five CG centres come.

A few years ago we focused on poverty mapping. I’d love to do another one focused on food security. That’s an offer we can make to the CG.

Q: What’s a favorite example of using GIS for agriculture?

A: One of our customers, USAID, had a project in Ghana called TIPCEE. It was really innovative in that they had women using GPS to go out and map the size of farmer fields. One thing they found was that plots were generally considerably smaller than people had thought. So farmers had been wasting money paying extra money for fertilizer and plowing. Also, they were buying too much fertilizer, so it was likely running off into the groundwater.

Another result was that since they had good maps of where the cash crops are grown, they had a better idea of where cooperatives and warehouses should be. Better location of those facilities could mean faster processing for export and shipment.

In addition, the maps helped them get organic certification by European markets. For that certification, you need a map to show you’re not, say, in a protected area, or surrounded by farms using chemicals.

Q: How did you get into this?

A: I’m a geography geek. When I was a kid, I used to read a Time Magazine atlas of the world at night, under the covers with a flashlight.

In college I was a forestry major –I wanted to be working out in the field. But then I developed horrible allergies to trees. So I went back to my first love and did my Master’s and PhD in geography.

Also…my father’s blind, and I think his lack of vision made me passionate about seeing the world. I got pretty good at describing the world to him as we walked together, and as we traveled. And geography is the art of describing our world.

Whitney Gantt

Whitney Gantt

Whitney Gantt

A Quick Win: Community Knowledge Workers in Uganda

AGCommons, the newly funded project coordinated by the CGIAR, is about getting the right farm information to the right person in the right place at the right time.

To jumpstart the effort, in December 2008 AGCommons challenged organizations to come up with a “Quick Win”: a product that would have real impact on the ground, useable within six to nine months.

The Grameen Technology Center, an initiative of the Grameen Foundation, is one of 5 recently announced winners out of 40 entries. Known for supporting microfinance programs across the world, Grameen Foundation also sponsors other wealth-creation ideas, including “Village Phone”. For this micro-enterprise, a villager takes out a loan, buys a phone, or rather a “business in a box”—and then allows everyone in the village to use the mobile for a small fee

“ Village Phone worked really well in 2001 when we started it, but began losing competitiveness as the cost of mobile phones dropped,” says Whitney Gantt, a Program Officer working with Grameen Technology Center. “But mobiles have much more potential for rural dwellers than just phone calls….”

Enter Grameen’s Quick Win solution.
First, Grameen is creating a network of Community Knowledge Workers (CKWs). They will be the information “hubs” who connect agricultural and research institutions with farmers, and vice versa. They’ll have a mobile phone with either a camera or a camera and GPS.

Next comes figuring out the exact types of information farmers need—and how to collect, package, and deliver it through the CKW’s mobile devices. So, for instance, instead of calling an uncle in Kampala to ask about fertilizers, a farmer could ask a CKW, who would connect to the right data source and a have a site-specific answer.

One use of the CKW setup would be an early warning system for crop diseases. Banana diseases, for instance, create a huge drain on farmer income in Uganda, where bananas are a staple crop.

A farmer could call the CKW: “There’s a disease on my bananas.” The CKW motors or bikes to the farm, snaps a photo of the infected plant, and debriefs the farmer with a structured survey, already installed in the mobile. A few clicks send that info plus the exact location (in GPS coordinates) directly to the computers housing the database. As more surveys come in, an analysis of the disease’s whereabouts and progression comes back to the CKWs to distribute to the farmers—along with treatment or preventive actions to take.

And there’s more. “We want to create a suite of information products that CKWs can access and pass along to farmers,” says Whitney. These might include:

 Real-time information on markets and prices
 Where to buy high-quality seed and chemicals—plus information on improved seeds and how to use them
 A farmer hotline. Operators at a call center would answer technical questions using a database, or search on the internet—even connect directly to an expert if necessary. The call-center pilot will begin in early April
 A way for institutions and innovators to get news to farmers, e.g. on a new technique for growing organic coffee, or improved, drought-resistant seeds.

“My dream vision,” says Whitney, “is to see this network scaled up—one community knowledge worker per parish. And all functioning as a two-way info channel. Then farmers can overcome info barriers, increase productivity, get higher prices….

“One big challenge is gender. We have about one third women. But it’s not easy to find women to participate. They can get stuck on the farm with their duties. Or prevented by family members from attending meetings or trainings. How to ensure that this includes women and doesn’t exacerbate gender imbalances is a priority.

“I like how dynamic this is. There are a lot of different opportunities to create value with the farmers and CKWs. It’s not just one mobile application focused on markets. You have a system you can plug ideas into and test. If they work, great. If not, you move on to the next thing.”