New Technology Tracks Benefits of Ecosystem Services & Agriculture in Africa

A new monitoring system for agriculture, ecosystems and human well-being called ‘Vital Signs‘ will use ESRI Technology to visually communicate data that shed new light on the benefits farmers receive from nature and agriculture in Africa. The monitoring system is intended to help policy-makers visualize outcomes of different agricultural decisions as part of the monitoring system’s online indicators of sustainability. 

Ecosystem Services & Agriculture_kberrisford

Copyright: K.Berrisford

“Feeding the growing world population will require a 70-100% increase in food production through agricultural intensification, but no country can achieve this goal if it doesn’t also work to sustain nature – the healthy soils, pollinators, fresh water and forests on which farmers depend,” said Dr. Sandy Andelman, Vital Signs Executive Director and Senior Vice President of the Betty and Gordon Moore Center for Science and Oceans at Conservation International. “The foundation of Vital Signs is providing open-access information at all the scales that are relevant for agricultural decision-making – from a smallholder farmer household to a farm plot, landscape, region, and all the way to the globe.” 

Vital Signs provides integrated measurements of agriculture, ecosystem services and human well-being by pooling near real-time, multi-scale data into an open-access online dashboard that policy makers can freely use and customize for smart decision making. Vital Signs will quantify sustainability and provide analytical tools to evaluate risks and tradeoffs among agricultural development, ecosystem health and human well-being outcomes. The system provides an evidence-based mechanism for establishing baselines, setting targets and monitoring progress.
Esri will provide Vital Signs with landscape analysis tools and help design a dashboard for users to assess tradeoffs and monitor a decision’s impact on the land and farmer’s livelihoods. These tools will enable them to establish baselines, set targets, and monitor the progress of sustainable policies within the five countries that Vital Signs currently works – Ethiopia, Ghana, Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda.
“Monitoring the complexity of Earth’s many ecosystems requires active networks of people, science, data, and technology,” said Jack Dangermond, president and CEO of Esri. “However, actually living in sustainable relationships with these ecosystems requires people who are willing to collaborate and commit to a healthy planet. Conservation International is a standard of these values. It is an honor for Esri to work with its staff to build the Vital Signs system.”
Vital Signs was launched in 2012 with a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to Conservation International (CI). The monitoring system is co-led by CI, the Earth Institute, Columbia University (EI), and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, South Africa (CSIR). Vital Signs will collaborate and partner with governments, other nongovernmental organizations, the academic community, the private sector and key international partners. Esri’s contributions of its GIS cloud services, software, and expertise to Vital Signs will help policy makers in Africa and around the world make informed decisions about pursuing agricultural intensification sustainably. 

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