Andy Jarvis is not a new face on our blog or with our program. Andy is a young scientist who leads the CIAT’s Decision and Policy Analysis (DAPA) program, he is an active member of the CGIAR-Consortium for Spatial Information (CSI) and a self-professed “promiscuos geographer”

Not only is Andy an excellent scientist, he is also a very decent human being. He has just received the Ebbe Nielsen Prize in Copenhagen: the annual award, granted by the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), that recognizes the innovative use of the latest computer technology in biodiversity research. And with the prize him and his team won he decided to set up the Peter Jones Scholarship for Agricultural Bioinformatics, named after the former-CIAT scientist who was one of his early mentors. The scholarship will support a young promising Latin American undergraduate to help with DAPA’s research into the effects of climate change on agricultural biodiversity.

Read more on the “true honour” as Andy describes the award in his address on CIAT blog.

Proud to have Andy and his team among the many scientists with a conscience in the CGIAR!

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   Srikant Vasan, BMGF  

Srikant Vasan, BMGF

An interview with Srikant Vasan, Senior Program Officer for Agricultural Development, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and member of the AGCommons steering committee. Now at the AGCommons meeting in Nairobi

Q: What’s the Gates Foundation’s major interest in Geographic Information Systems (GIS)?

A: Agriculture is your prototypical geospatially referenced industry.

Q: Um, translation, please?

A: In other words, for agriculture, location is critically important. It matters where your farm is, what type of soil is there, where the water table is, what your climate patterns are, the distance to your markets. That’s why maps are interesting. The other piece is: Agriculture is very technology and information intensive. We’re big believers in the power of science and technology to improve outcomes. So for both these reasons, we think of geo-spatial information as a key piece of the puzzle.

Q: How are you using GIS?

A: First of all, location intelligence forms a key piece of several grants across our portfolio, from AfSIS (building digital soil maps) to HarvestChoice (enabling key analyses using geospatial information in agricultural development to AWhere (creating local weather data layers to better inform farming decisions). Second, my colleagues in the policy and statistics sub-initiative are looking at primary “Statistics from Space” data and filling gaps, to feed policymakers’ decisions, and enable better crop models using remote sensing data. My focus, though, is based on the assumption that there’s a lot of data already– but it doesn’t get to the field. We want to help data cross boundaries–boundaries within and between institutions. And also to disseminate information out to the field and closer to the farmer. I’m interested in seeing a transition from a focus on data to a focus on solutions. This is happening in bits and pieces. Why should a farmer care what we’re doing How can this data affect a farmer’s life? How can it ultimately improve incomes on the small farm, the dollar-a-day farm?

Q: So how DO you get information to farmers?

A: A good example is Mali Shambani here in Kenya. It’s a radio program that reaches 2.2 milion farmers weekly with information they can use directly.

Q: Not very high tech….

A: It doesn’t need to be cool or fancy technology to be useful! Radio is fine by me. We’re also exploring using cellphones. There’s a model we’re looking into of farmer helplines: people can just call up and ask about their problem and get an answer. It’s showing good early signs of success. Video works, too: local mediators video what successful farmers are doing, then gather a group of 25 to come and watch the video together and talk. In terms of adoption of improved methods per cost – early indicators show that it is up to 10 times as cost effective as regular extension services. We’re planning to support it. Now they are dealing with 1500 farmers. How can you scale that up to 100 times that? And how do you show you have a viable model while doing so?

Q: What are other focus areas of the Foundation for agriculture?

A: The agricultural development initiative has four subdivisions: science and technology, farmer productivity, market access, and policy and statistics. We have 200-plus grants across those four initiatives.

Q: Do you work a lot with the CGIAR centres?

A: The foundation views the CG centers as key partners in our efforts across the board; CG centres are key grantees in all four of these areas.

Q: What is your background, and why are you at the Gates Foundation?

A: I’m an IT entrepreneur, having started, built and sold two companies. After selling the second company in 2007, I wanted to find a way to use my skills and experiences to try to ‘give back’, which is what led to this role at the Gates Foundation. I try to find ways to use IT to turbocharge our efforts to help smallholder farmers.

We want to make sure we let you know what is happening in Nairobi. We are twittering from the AGCommons meeting at www.twitter.com/ictkm and we are preparing a number of interviews with the participants. We want to hear from ‘those around the table’, we are giving them a space to talk…. stay tuned….you will read their stories here.

In April 2008 we held a very interesting CSI meeting . Here is the group picture we took then

CSI meeting 2008

CSI meeting 2008

Yesterday we took a group picture for the CSI meeting in 2009

CSI 2009 meeting

CSI meeting 2009

No…location is not the difference..both are taken in Nairobi… so…what is the difference?

The Consortium on Spatial Information (CSI), of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), in partnership with AGCommons Program, has organized the first African Geospatial Week, to be held in Nairobi 31 March – 4th April, 2009.

The week will include three events, the CGIAR-CSI 2009 Annual Meeting (31 March – 1 April),  a two-day workshop on the AGCommons Program (2 – 3 April) and finally the WhereCampAfrica day (4 April): the first event of its kind to be held in Africa.

With the theme “Mapping our Future 2009-2014: Collective Action and Advocacy to Improve Spatial Solutions for Sustainable Development”, the CGIAR-CSI Annual Meeting will open the week. It is in the context of growing recognition of the importance of location as well as potentially major institutional change that the CSI holds its annual meeting. The CSI needs to respond coherently and responsibly but also with boldness and imagination to this unique time and opportunity.

It will be followed by the AGCommons workshop: Phase I of the Program is underway with consultation activities in Africa and the implementation of five “Quick Win” projects; the workshop will provide guidance for planning the second Phase of the Program (2010-2012).

The primary goal of the AGCommons Program is to identify and develop data, tools and services that deliver relevant, timely and targeted information directly to farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa and those working on their behalf.

With real-time, location-specific information, farmers will be able to plan and decide more effectively which crops or livestock will perform best on their farms, anticipate and manage disease outbreaks and rainfall shortfalls, as well as decide when to harvest and to which markets to sell. The farmers’ rich knowledge on various aspects of farming will feed into the upcoming information toolkit in AGCommons that will deploy high-tech geospatial technology to the service of Africa’s farmers.

 WhereCamp Africa  is the closing event of the week: it is a free “un-conference” for geographers, mobile location experts and social cartographers and anyone interested in “place” or locational information and technologies.

The idea comes from FooCamp and BarCamp as a way to give everybody an opportunity to bring to the table the things that interest them the most and lets them talk about topics that are still new and exploratory. Part of what is important to hearing new voices and getting new ideas is lowering barriers to participation – this event is free and it is driven by the participants. Wherecamp will bring together software developers, artists, geographers and academics for a one day extended discussion, as an opportunity to present on ideas, questions, projects, politics, technical issues and get feedback from other people.

 Society is being transformed by new maps and new mapping technology. WhereCampAfrica is an opportunity to help create a free forum in Africa for people to talk about, present, explore and learn about projects that involve “place” and relevant technologies.

Top ten reasons to participate:

§         To formulate a CSI vision of the enhanced role of spatially-referenced and location-aware data, analysis, and knowledge products for sustainable agricultural development, improved livelihoods, and food security.

§         To achieve consensus on a strategy (or as a minimum, agreeing a rapid, cost-effective process for developing such a strategy) for CSI’s engagement with the donor, development and science communities in making progress toward achieving that vision.

§         To have a scientific exchange on CSI member research and implementation activities

§         To develop specific recommendations on strategic opportunities to the AGCommons Program 

§         To participate in WhereCampAfrica, the first event of its kind to take place in Africa

… only 5 reasons? Find out the others in Nairobi!

 With over 100 participants expected, the African geospatial week will be held at John Vercoe Conference Room, ILRI Headquarters, Nairobi, Kenya

Towards the end of February 2009, the Google Earth Outreach grants program approved a number of Google Earth Pro licenses for the CGIAR Centers. This significant donation will facilitate the CGIAR Consortium of Spatial Information (CSI) group in communicating timely geographic information to the world.

Thanks to the initiative of Glenn Hyman (a very ‘spatial‘ CSI member from CIAT) and the coordination provided by the CGIAR’s ICT-KM Program, the 15 CGIAR Centers can now make use of Google Earth Pro. Glenn Hyman, the Geographic Information System Specialist from CIAT tells us more about how he approached the Google Earth Outreach program to get this donation for the CGIAR Centers:

In 2006, I met someone from Google at the 9th Meeting of the Global Spatial Data Infrastructure (GSDI) in Santiago, Chile. I asked her for a donation for the CSI, a request to which Google subsequently agreed. However, approval took some time because that person left Google soon after. Later, when I found out that France Lamy, an ex CIAT member of staff, was working at the Google Foundation, I wrote to her and explained about the commitment made in Santiago. She put me in touch with someone from the Google Earth Outreach program, which supports the spatial data infrastructure by helping non-profit organizations use and communicate geographic information. After providing the program with the necessary documentation, we received several one-year Google Earth Pro licenses – about three to five per Center. I would venture to say that all CGIAR GIS labs use Google Earth, and, as such, this donation will give the Centers an extra boost in capabilities

Thanks to Glenn and to the Google Earth Outreach Program for this wonderful opportunity…

More on Google Earth Pro:
Google Earth Pro is a software tool that easily researches locations and presents the discoveries. With just a few clicks of a mouse, users can import site plans, or property lists or client sites and share the view with partners and colleagues. High-quality images can also be exported into documents or onto the web.  Google Earth’s latest release includes features such as Ocean, Historical Imagery, and Touring.

Google Earth Pro features:

ge_overview


• Ocean, Historical Imagery, and Touring
• Faster performance
• Fly to anywhere on the planet, or explore space
• Search for schools, parks, restaurants and hotels
• Get driving directions
• Explore Featured Content
• Tilt and rotate the view in 3D
• Access Drawing tools
• Import GPS data
• Track real-time GPS
• Import spreadsheet data
• Measure area
• Movie Maker
• Import GIS data

 

For more information regarding the Google Earth Pro licenses in your center, please contact your centers’ CSI representatives or write to ictkm@cgiar.org

The ICT-KM Program will be communicating examples of the applications that are being developed in the CGIAR centers with Google Earth Pro soon, so stay tuned!

wherecampafrica
First of all you may wonder: What is a WhereCamp?

It is an “unconference” for geographers, mobile location experts and social cartographers and all kinds of folks interested in “place”. It will follow the annual CGIAR gathering of the geospatial scientists and on 4th April 2009 will bring together software developers, artists, geographers and academics for a one day extended discussion.

WhereCamp is an opportunity to present on ideas, questions, projects, politics, technical issues that you have – and contribute to and get feedback from other people and to make new friends with similar interests. It’s free and fun.

Why would you want to go?Society is being transformed by new maps and new mapping technology. This is an opportunity to help create a free forum in Africa for people to talk about, present, explore, and learn about projects that involve place.

What’s new about this?This will be the first gathering of its kind to take place in Africa.

What is an “unconference” ?An unconference is a conference planned by the participants. After a morning plenary to help frame the discussion we all convene together, plan sessions, and have break-outs into sessions. The idea comes from FooCamp and BarCamp as a way to give everybody an opportunity to bring to the table the things that interest them the most and lets us talk about new topics that are still new and exploratory. Part of what is important to hearing new voices and getting new ideas is lowering barriers to participation – this event is free and it is driven by the participants.

What kinds of topics will be discussed?This event is community driven and is what you make it. It provide cross pollination between many different kinds of folks from all walks of life.

Although we cannot predict exactly what will happen, topics might include:

Mobile location
Remote Sensing
Geoinformatics
Mapping and Agriculture
Food Security and Location
Community Mapping
Local Search
social cartography
Crisis Mapping
Iphones Androids and the way the web is falling into mobile

Expect to participate in conversations on the nature of place as described in pixels, with rays, on paper, and by social practice!

How exactly do I get to WhereCampAfrica?
visit www.wherecampafrica.org to find out!

AGCommons is proud to join others in co-organizing this innovative event!