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.

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.

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