The disruption starts now: new big data program promises to shake up agriculture


Source: CIAT Blog 2017

By | May 15, 2017

A new multimillion-dollar initiative plans to disrupt food production across the developing world, with the aim of making it more productive, efficient and resilient – all through the power of information.

The CGIAR Platform for Big Data in Agriculture is jointly led by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), with tech giants IBM and Amazon among a list of high-level partners.

It brings together thousands of experts, from crop scientists to computer programmers to collect, process and analyze vast amounts of data on crops, weather, soils and more, with the aim of producing some of the most precise and reliable recommendations for farmers, governments and policymakers in developing countries.

The USD$30 million initiative will be officially launched today at the Information and Communications Technology for Development (ICT4D) conference in Hyderabad, India.






“It’s time for smallholder farmers to stop looking at the sky and praying for rain,” said Andy Jarvis, a Research Director at CIAT.

“With enough data and enough analysts, we’ll be able to say if the rains will be late or on-time. We’ll be able to say which crops to plant, when to plant and how much fertilizer or water to use. We’ll be able to anticipate shocks, reduce risks and maximize opportunities for profitable, sustainable agriculture.”

Early efforts by CIAT to apply so-called big data approaches to agriculture in Colombia have proven successful. In 2013 a team of analysts ran studies using decades of data from the country’s meteorological office and rice growers’ federation. The resulting recommendations on sowing times are estimated to have saved farmers in the country’s Córdoba Department around USD$3.6m in input costs in a single season. CIAT and its partners have also used big data approaches to tracking deforestation in the Amazon in near-real time.

But the benefits of the big data revolution have not yet reached the vast majority of smallholders and policymakers in developing countries. The spread of smartphones and internet connectivity to many rural areas means many farmers are now better able to generate, share and receive important data to help guide agricultural decisions and investments.

“There’s no reason for precision farming to be the preserve of the fortunate few anymore,” continued Jarvis. “While the data revolution has been a boon for farmers in richer countries, it needs to be democratized so that the world’s 500 million smallholders can benefit too – after all, they produce 70% of the world’s food.”

Others Platform partners in the include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Bank, the universities of Penn State and Michigan State, Kings College London, and PepsiCo, which has pioneered the use of big data to manage supply chains for consumer goods.

“With enormous expertise and processing power now at our disposal, this is the next frontier in agricultural research-for-development,” said Jawoo Koo, a Senior Research Fellow at IFPRI, and an expert in spatial data and analytics. “Better use of data can help drive better policy decisions, helping solve development problems more quickly, cheaply, and at a greater scale than before.

“If we’re going to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals of increasing food production, reducing poverty and tackling climate change, one of the quickest ways will be to close the digital divide between rich and poor farmers. This will help ensure the world’s farmers and policymakers are making informed choices that produce the biggest impacts. The CGIAR Platform for Big Data in Agriculture aims to do exactly that.”

The Platform will focus on three priority areas:

1. Organize – data on soils, climate, crops and more will be organized, standardized and made publicly available by the organizations that generate it. The Platform will begin by prioritizing the free and open sharing of data held by researchers at CGIAR – a global network of agricultural research organizations.

2. Convene – foster new partnerships between the agricultural science and technology sectors in order to bring together the best minds, and accelerate progress towards achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

3. Inspire – put the data and partnerships into practice via a USD$4m fund to support innovative projects with big data approaches at their core, such as real-time monitoring of pest outbreaks, or site-specific recommendations for farmers on water and fertilizer use.


Additional information

The CGIAR Platform for Big Data in Agriculture aims to harness the capabilities of big data to accelerate and enhance the impact of international agricultural research. The six-year initiative will provide global leadership in organizing open data, convening partners to develop innovative solutions, and demonstrating the power of big data analytics through inspiring projects that focus on improving agriculture in developing countries and informing policymakers.

The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) is a scientific research organization committed to sustainable food production and improving rural livelihoods in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. As well as developing new techniques and approaches to make agriculture more profitable, competitive and sustainable, for 50 years CIAT has been a trusted provider of impartial advice on agricultural and environmental issues to governments and policymakers all over the world.

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) seeks sustainable solutions for ending hunger and poverty. IFPRI was established in 1975 to identify and analyze alternative national and international strategies and policies for meeting the food needs of the developing world, with particular emphasis on low-income countries and on the poorer groups in those countries.

Both CIAT and IFPRI are part of CGIAR, a global agriculture research partnership for a food-secure future. Its research is carried out by 15 centers in close collaboration with hundreds of partner organizations.

Article Disclaimer: This article was published by the CIAT Blog 0and retrieved on 05/15/2017 and posted at INDESEEM for information and educational purposes only. The views and contents of the article remain those of the authors. We will not be held accountable for the reliability and accuracy of the materials. If you need additional information on the published contents and materials, please contact the original authors and publisher. Please cite the authors, original source, and INDESEEM accordingly.


Leopold Center Avoids Shut-Down, but its Future Remains Uncertain


Source: Civil Eats 2017

Iowa’s governor vetoed a close of the national leader in sustainable agriculture research but eliminated its budget, leaving its three decades’ work to revitalize local farm economies in jeopardy.

[Update: On Saturday, May 13, Iowa governor Terry Branstad vetoed a line-item in the state’s budget bill that would immediately close the Leopold Center. However, because no state funds have been appropriated to operate the Center, it is unclear how its work will proceed. Our original article appears below.]

You may never have heard of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, but if you’re eating sustainable food, the odds are good it has something to do with its work. Named after the iconic conservationist, Aldo Leopold, the Center has been conducting and funding research that helped define today’s working definition of sustainable agriculture for the last 30 years.

But the Iowa State University (ISU)-based Center’s reign—covering not only soil and water quality, but also developing regional, rural food systems and increasing profits for farmers—may soon come to an end.

In April, the Iowa State legislature announced that as part of proposed cuts—many aimed at education—to fix a $118 million budget shortfall, it would eliminate the Leopold Center’s funding, causing it to shut down almost immediately. The move was surprising, since the center’s two main sources of funding—about $1.5 million from a tax on nitrogen fertilizer and $400,000 from the Iowa Board of Regents—had essentially been on autopilot for three decades, and the center was given no warning of an impending change. The budget is now awaiting Governor Terry Branstad’s signature.

In the meantime, both Iowans and sustainable agriculture advocates from across the country have been rallying to save the Center.

Researchers who’ve benefitted from its grant funding have written about its impact. Editorials have appeared in the Des Moines Register and the Iowa State Dailythe latter of which bluntly asked, “Has the Iowa Legislature lost its mind?” And the Center for Rural Affairs (CFRA) sent a letter signed by more than 50 individuals from organizations as diverse and far-flung as the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association to the Mississippi Sustainable Ag Network to Iowa lawmakers.

“As farms have gotten larger, rural communities have shrunk. For decades, the Leopold Center has given seed money to look at innovative ideas and new practices that help out both farmers and conservation efforts,” explained Anna Johnson, an Iowa-based CFRA policy program associate, and ISU graduate. “We believe that is an important piece of helping keep rural communities going.”

It’s a salient point, given the fact that Branstad has said the budget cuts are necessary because farm income in the state is down, which means farmers are struggling, and water and soil quality issues continue to affect countless Iowa communities.

A History of Funding Innovative Research

The crisis comes just after the Leopold Center celebrated its 30th anniversary in March, with festivities including a panel featuring three of the Iowa legislators who helped establish the center in 1987 as part of the Iowa Groundwater Protection Act. The act established a tax on nitrogen fertilizer sales, a portion of which were allocated to the center for research and education efforts related to promoting profitable farming that conserves natural resources.

“It was one of the very first sustainable agriculture centers at a land grant university and was certainly a trendsetter,” said Ferd Hoefner, senior strategic advisor at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “Now there are dozens.”


A strip of native prairie grows in a soybean field in late summer. Prairie strips have shown to reduce sediment transport by 95 percent, and reduce nitrogen and phosphorus transport by 90 percent. The Leopold Center funded the original study of integrating strips of prairie plants within farm fields to improve soil health and water quality.

“Due to the innovative research that our researchers have addressed over the last 30 years, the Leopold Center has developed a reputation for addressing challenges and opportunities that have made a more regenerative and resilient agriculture a practical and achievable goal for farmers in Iowa and throughout the world,” said Frederick L. Kirschenmann, a leader in sustainable agriculture and the former director of the Leopold Center.The Center has plenty of reasons to celebrate. Over the past 30 years, it has awarded more than 500 competitive research grants on a broad range of issues, including cover crops, managed grazing systems, and increasing access to affordable local food.

In 2013, it produced a series of Funding Impact Briefs looking at six major projects the Center invested in over 10 years and found that for every dollar the center spent, the projects raised an additional $4.60 to expand the work. The briefs also found that 1,078 farmers shifted their practices to conserve resources or profited as a result of the work.

The Bear Creek Riparian Buffer Project is a great example. Between 1990 and 2012, the Leopold center invested $900,000 in protecting the watershed and wildlife in Bear Creek. A research team worked with landowners to install more than 22,500 acres of protective trees and shrubs (or “riparian buffers”) planted along waterways. The effort cut nitrogen and phosphorus runoff (which contributes to toxic algal blooms) by 80 percent, removed up to 90 percent of groundwater nitrate and led to the return of multiple bird species. The detailed results were made public to help other agricultural communities reproduce the effort.

The research also led to significant economic benefits across the state. Long-term agroecological research by ISU’s Organic Agriculture Program found that organic systems had lower production costs, comparable yields, and higher returns, and the producers the program helped transition to organic methods reported an 11 to 20 percent increase in farm income. Businesses participating in a project dedicated to developing local and regional food systems reported an increase of more than $1 million dollars of local food purchases between 2007 and 2009.

Director Mark Rasmussen also pointed to work the Leopold Center had done to bolster Iowa’s farm economy such as encouraging new, alternative crops like grapes for wine production and hopes to fulfill demand from a growing craft beer industry, as well as research on low-input systems that incorporate diversity and cover crops.

“We’ve looked at…making agriculture more biological, trying to find ways to farm that don’t require such high cash outflow and the purchasing of expensive inputs and that still get farmers a reasonable yield and a family income out of the deal,” he said.

Pairing that attention to practical application with rigorous, academic research really set the Center apart, Hoefner said. “They’ve contributed a lot to…really testing things out at the farm level, to see how things researchers are working on actually affect real farm practices.”

What’s Next for the Center?

After the news of the cuts to funding initially broke, the budget was pushed through rapidly, in less than two weeks. Governor Branstad has 30 days to approve it—by mid-May—but he could issue a line item veto to keep the Leopold Center open.

“We have a lot of stakeholders who have been contacting his office and basically asking him to revert back to the authorization language that created the center in the first place,” Rasmussen said. But there are a number of complicating factors. President Trump recently nominated Branstad as the U.S. ambassador to China, and after a hearing on May 2, he will likely be confirmed within the next few weeks. Lieutenant governor Kim Reynolds will take his place if he’s confirmed.

Despite a loud outcry from the public—Rasmussen said hundreds of people have contacted Branstad to urge him to veto the line-item in the budget—he has no indication of the Center’s future. Yesterday, Rasmussen explained by email, “Today the Governor is signing a proclamation declaring this Iowa Soil and Water Conservation Week, which would be a good time for him to announce that he is saving the Leopold Center; but no word to us that this is going to happen.”


An Iowa State University student collects water infiltration data in a field with cover crops, as part of a Leopold Center-supported a research project. The project studied the long-term impact of cereal rye on cash crop yields, using data collected at 12 farms across the state for eight years.

It will be needed. Despite one Iowa state senator’s comment that the cuts were not a concern, since the Leopold Center’s work could be considered “done,” a 2015 report from the Union of Concerned Scientists found that research on sustainable agriculture is profoundly underfunded in the U.S., making up just 15 percent of U.S. Department of Agriculture grants.

Ask Rasmussen about the issues facing Iowa’s farmers and citizens and his list is extensive—from low farm prices and profitability to the concentration of companies that buy and sell to farmers in agribusiness and the lack of economic opportunities in rural communities.

“From my perspective, the challenges that farmers will be facing in Iowa and throughout the world in the next 30 years will make the research of the Leopold Center even more important than it has been in the past 30 years,” Kirschenmann said. “The assumption that the Leopold Center’s work has been completed and it is no longer needed, as some have proposed, simply fails to anticipate our future challenges.”

Top photo: The Leopold Center funded a grant project “Small-farm business development incubator for refugee farmers” with Lutheran Services in Iowa. Congera Alex, originally from Burundi, transplants his crops in early spring in a community garden in Des Moines, Iowa. He will get help finding customers for his produce through this business incubator. All photos courtesy of The Leopold Center.


Article Disclaimer: This article was published by the Civil Eats and retrieved on 05/15/2017 and posted at INDESEEM for information and educational purposes only. The views and contents of the article remain those of the authors. We will not be held accountable for the reliability and accuracy of the materials. If you need additional information on the published contents and materials, please contact the original authors and publisher. Please cite the authors, original source, and INDESEEM accordingly.


CIAT-CCAFS Science Informed $250 Million World Bank Climate-Smart Agriculture Investment


Source: CIAT,2017

By: Evan Girvetz Climate Change and Soils

The Challenge

Kenya is highly vulnerable to serious threats posed by climate change and highly dependent on climate-sensitive natural resources. Given the extent of uncertainties in understanding how different systems, departments, and crops would likely be affected, there is a need for policymakers to draft appropriate adaptation plans with reliable information on climate change. But the financial burden on drafting and implementing these plans is out of reach for many developing countries.

CIAT’s Role

CIAT-CCAFS past work in Kenya, including creating a national climate-smart agriculture (CSA) plan, served as the catalyst for a Kenyan government partnership and World Bank investment. In 2015 CIAT-ICRAF-CCAFS, with World Bank support, developed the CSA country profile for Kenya to systematically assess the state of CSA nationally, including agricultural practices that deliver higher productivity, improved resilience, and lower emissions. CIAT  had also prepared 8 of the 24 County Risk Profiles under the Kenya Adaptation to Climate Change in Arid Lands Project (KACCAL). The World Bank used the national and county plans as the technical basis to develop the Kenya Climate-Smart Agriculture Project (KCSAP).

Other inputs cited in the KCSAP proposal for developing innovative business models that consider value chain impacts and link smallholder farmers to markets include CIAT Big Data Site-Specific Recommendations and the CIAT LINK methodology (described in another 2016 outcome story). The World Bank cited the CIAT-CCAFS CSA Prioritization Framework (CSA 101 Website) as the first key design principle for the project, and determined country risk profiles as integral and necessary.

What has changed?

With the World Bank investment, Kenya can officially move forward in creating CSA plans and collaboration on this project deepens the relationship between CIAT and the Kenyan government. The Kenyan government requested CIAT to prepare 16 additional profiles for the remaining counties in the KCSAP project. The government also requested adding TIMPS (Agricultural Technologies, Innovations, Management Practices) prioritization; these techniques could include water management, animal health, market access, and other strategies. The KCSAP project assesses the institutional, policy, and financial entry points for taking CSA to scale in the participating counties. Recognizing the strategic advantage of preparing CSA plans, the World Bank and Kenyan government required CSA profiles from each of the counties in order to participate in the project.

Article Disclaimer: This article was published by the CIMMYT 0and retrieved on 05/03/2017 and posted at INDESEEM for information and educational purposes only. The views and contents of the article remain those of the authors. We will not be held accountable for the reliability and accuracy of the materials. If you need additional information on the published contents and materials, please contact the original authors and publisher. Please cite the authors, original source, and INDESEEM accordingly.


Scaling up research for impact


Source: CIMMYT, 2017 – Bringing a scaling perspective to research projects as early as possible helps keep a focus on what the project actually can and aims to achieve. Photo: CIMMYT/P. Lowe

April 27, 2017

EL BATAN, Mexico (CIMMYT) – Agricultural innovations, like climate-resilient crops, sustainable land use practices, and farm mechanization options, can go a long way toward achieving several U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.

But ensuring research reaches a significant amount of farmers to have a widespread impact is challenging.

Projects, programs, and policies can often be like small pebbles thrown into a big pond. They are limited in scope, time bound and therefore might fail to have long lasting impact. Through well thought scaling up strategies, development practitioners expect to implement successful interventions and expand, adapt and sustain them in different ways over time for greater developmental impact.

“To have our knowledge and technologies positively impact the livelihoods of large numbers of farmers in maize and wheat-based systems is what matters most,” said Bruno Gérard, director of the Sustainable Intensification Program at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT).

Understanding the needs and demands of our stakeholders is crucial in the design and implementation of a research portfolio, he added.

As part of a German Development Cooperation (GIZ) effort to aid the scaling up of agricultural innovations, Lennart Woltering recently joined CIMMYT’s Sustainable Intensification Program. With previous experience working in development in Africa and South Asia, Woltering will play a key role in linking CIMMYT’s research to specific development needs, increasing its relevance and impact.

There is no blueprint for scaling, it depends on the institutional and socio-economic environments, which are very diverse in the various regions where CIMMYT works, said Gérard. He hopes Woltering’s experience with both development and research organizations will further contribute to link the right technical innovations with the people who need them.

Bringing a scaling perspective to research projects as early as possible helps keep a focus on what the project actually can and aims to achieve, Woltering said. Understanding what the drivers are that make the widespread adoption happen is critical.

“We do this by making sure scaling processes are an integral part of innovation systems. It is important to understand how conducive environments for scaling can be facilitated and how far we can realistically go,” he added.

Woltering will work to provide a coherent approach to scaling that can be used across the program’s projects, said Gérard.

To see real impact from research, initiatives must move beyond the boundaries of a single organization, Woltering said. New forms of collaboration across different sectors and the opening of new communication channels to share lessons of success when scaling should emerge.

Woltering will develop scaling strategies to facilitate the adoption of sustainable intensification options such as conservation agriculture and water/nutrient efficient practices, and contribute to enhancing CIMMYT’s partnerships with public and private sectors.

Previously, Woltering worked as a civil engineer focusing on water management with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics in Africa (ICRISAT), then later moved on to work for a consulting development firm in Germany.  His experience will allow him to better articulate development needs with CIMMYT’s research, increasing the relevance and impact of the organization’s work.

Woltering is one of five experts working at CIMMYT as part of the GIZ-sponsored CIM Integrated Experts program. The CIM program aims to strategically place managers and technical experts in public and private organizations in the developing world to pass on their professional knowledge and contribute to capacity building.

Article Disclaimer: This article was published by the CIMMYT 04/27/2017 and retrieved on 05/03/2017 and posted at INDESEEM for information and educational purposes only. The views and contents of the article remain those of the authors. We will not be held accountable for the reliability and accuracy of the materials. If you need additional information on the published contents and materials, please contact the original authors and publisher. Please cite the authors, original source, and INDESEEM accordingly.


Impact of Climate Change on Tea Production in Malawi – Review of a Workshop


Source: CIAT, 2017

CIAT Author: by | Mar 28, 2017

Over the past few years, the Malawi tea industry has seen a decrease in production mainly because of erratic rainfall, which has led to either floods or droughts. These changes in climate conditions require producers to adapt their practices to secure a sustainable livelihood. UTZ (Certification for sustainable farming, helping farmers, implementing good agricultural practices) wants to support the various stakeholders in the Malawi tea sector to elaborate and implement strategies for dealing with the impacts of climate change. CIAT will support UTZ in the generation of climate impact gradients for tea in Malawi to identify areas with high, medium, and low potential for tea production now and through 2050. Part of this work implies carrying out workshops in Malawi.

Our philosophy is that there are no “good” models; there can only be useful ones. To be useful, our models must make sense to local stakeholders and reflect their expertise. Therefore, after preparing preliminary models and findings for months in our offices sheltered from the “real world,” it was time to actually go to Malawi and validate our work. After traveling for almost two days from Cali, Colombia, to Blantyre, Malawi, I first had to learn how to pronounce the name of the city


Henriette Walz (UTZ) at the Tea Estate Lujeri


where I would spend the next couple of days, as well as a few basic phrases of the national language, Chichewa. This was very important for the Malawian people and always provided a good laugh.


Right from the beginning when I was picked up at the airport, I realized how beautiful the landscape of the area was. The region is rather flat but has stunning mountain massifs. In the next couple of days, my initial admiration of local nature continued when we went to the tea-growing regions. The combination of blue skies, green tea leaves, and mountain massifs in the background was just incredibly nice.


We had a full agenda of meetings with different tea experts planned for the four days. The first day started a little unsuccessfully since the first meeting was canceled on short notice. However, this gave us the great opportunity to explore a little bit of the city of Blantyre and to get first-hand impressions of Malawi.


Shopping on a market in Malawi


Fortunately, the next day started better and we had our first meeting at a tea estate (Lujeri). The meeting was great thanks to the positive and constructive feedback about our results. This was really important for us, to obtain opinions about our model and its outcome. First, I was relieved that our work had paid off and that we obtained such positive feedback. But soon I came to realize that this feedback also meant that climate change (our results say that less area in Malawi will be suitable for tea production in the future) has a strong negative impact on many people in Malawi.

Over the next couple of days we had meetings with another tea estate (EPM), two research institutions (TRF and Bvumbwe Research station) and the Smallholder Association (NSTGA). The latter meeting was the most emotional and dramatic one because the smallholders saw that their feeling about the future of Malawi’s tea production became confirmed by our results. They actually said that the end of tea production also meant “the end of Malawi” since so many people depend on tea. At this point, it was necessary to communicate that the future scenarios are only scenarios and there would be a way to cope with or take actions against, for example, deforestation in order to prevent the predicted unsuitable climate for tea. Although these emotions about the pessimistic future for tea production in Malawi were mentioned throughout every meeting, the meeting with the smallholders affected us the most.


Henriette Walz and Henderson Maposa (UTZ) in the workshop with the smallholder association NSTGA


All in all, it was a very interesting time in Malawi. We learned not only about tea production and farmers’ practices but also about the Malawian way of living. We had very good meetings, which gave us great feedback for our work. The general conclusion we can draw is that our results predict that Malawian tea-growing regions are going to be less suitable in the future because of increased temperature and less and unevenly distributed precipitation. These findings became confirmed by the experts and we received some valuable feedback about how to modify the variables of our model in order to refine the results. Therefore, as a next step, we are going to implement this feedback into our work in order to go back to Malawi and share these final results with the experts and stakeholders. Based on this, UTZ is going to develop climate-smart practices for tea production in Malawi to help the stakeholders to continue tea production in Malawi not only today but also in the future.

Article Disclaimer: This article was published by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) 04/28/2017 and retrieved on 05/01/2017 and posted at INDESEEM for information and educational purposes only. The views and contents of the article remain those of the authors. We will not be held accountable for the reliability and accuracy of the materials. If you need additional information on the published contents and materials, please contact the original authors and publisher. Please cite the authors, original source, and INDESEEM accordingly.


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