Innovations and challenges in measuring agricultural outcomes in Africa

Continuing a frank conversation about geospatial impact evaluations with experts from the GeoField 2023 convening

March 29, 2024
Katherine Nolan and Rachel Sayers

Dr. Lilian Kirimi, Mr. Andrew Anguko, Dr. Lailà Lokosang, and Dr. Michael Wellington lead a panel discussion in a packed session at the inaugural GeoField convening, held in Rome in September, 2023.

At the 2023 GeoField Convening, over 100 economists, geospatial scientists, climate scientists, and agronomists wrestled with the challenge of how new techniques afforded by Earth observation technology, such as Geospatial Impact Evaluations (GIEs), could improve impact evaluations of climate-sensitive agriculture and land use programs. 

Although experts agree that agricultural productivity and climate resilience are key to advancing economic development, especially in Africa, learnings that can be reinvested into project design and implementation are still in short supply, as impact evaluations often rely solely on survey and observational data collected on-site.

Panelists in one of the GeoField 2023 sessions held a frank discussion about the most promising GIE innovations, as well as the most challenging difficulties in measuring agricultural program outcomes in Africa. The panelists included Dr. Lilian Kirimi, a Senior Research Fellow at the Tegemeo Institute of Agricultural Policy & Development; Mr. Andrew Anguko, a Chief Quality and Methods Advisor at the Independent Development Evaluation (IDEV) of the African Development Bank;  Dr. Lailà Lokosang, a Senior Technical Advisor at the African Union; and Dr. Michael Wellington, an agricultural scientist interested in quantitative monitoring and modeling of agricultural systems and Manager at Digital Earth Africa. 

In this blog post, we'd like to continue the conversation with our panelists. 

What benefits do you think the GeoField Convening provided? What would be helpful to include in future convenings of the GeoField community of practice?

The GeoField Convening provided a foundation for collaboration, partnerships, and learning from what other people are doing in the area of impact evaluations in agricultural systems using earth observation. It may be important in the future to ensure that participants present what they have done since the September 2023 Convening. This may be through panel discussions or through presentation of actual work done in this area. Lessons learnt in this area can be shared to improve theory and practice in this field. - Andrew Anguko

The GeoField convening brought together numerous key organizations working on Earth Observation for agriculture and food security. It was helpful to collaborate with economists regarding impact evaluations, though it may be helpful to expand the group to include a wider range of Earth Observation data users, such as forecasters, finance providers, environmental monitoring experts, etc. - Michael Wellington

Part of the panel discussion centered around developing an Africa-wide community of practice that would help with data partnerships, data sharing, technical support, and capacity building. How could international organizations and researchers such as yourself become more involved and supportive of such a community?

The African Union has set up two capacities that use space technologies: The Global Monitoring for Environment and Security and Africa (GMES and Africa) Facility and the Africa Multi-Hazard Early Warning and Early Action Systems. Geofield and its partners are encouraged to network with this established structure and strengthen synergies and collaboration in future knowledge-sharing platforms. - Laila Lokosang

The Africa Community of Practice may be supported through leveraging of knowledge through support to upcoming professionals, presentation of articles to the community of practice., organizing and hosting community of practice workshops to build expert capacity as well as organizing annual or biannual meetings of the community of practice where issues pertaining to use of earth observation in impact evaluation in Agriculture in Africa are discussed. - Andrew Anguko

What is important going forward for us is having clear data partnerships and data-sharing arrangements. We know that some of this data is freely available but some of it is not. So, how can we have clear ways of accessing data and data partnerships so that we are able to collaborate? We can work together. Apart from just data sharing, we can also co-create projects. I also think going forward we could think of how to work with funding organizations to have a call that will require bringing more expert eyes together. I think sometimes such funding calls cause us to have collaborations even when we had not planned to, and I think in this case it would be helpful. - Lilian Kirimi

Are there any questions we didn't ask that would have been interesting or helpful to discuss? If so, can you state the question and provide your answer to it?

How can organizations effectively work across the heterogeneity of Africa? It's often said that “Africa is not a country” to emphasize the rich diversity and heterogeneity across the continent. This means that organizations have to pay attention to local, regional, and national policy settings, languages, and cultures. To work effectively across Africa we have to engage at national and sub-national scales. - Michael Wellington

About GeoField

GeoField is a partnership to make impact evaluations and climate-sensitive agriculture more effective through Earth observation. The initiative brings together AidData, DevGlobal Partners, and Mercy Corps, with financial support provided by The Gates Foundation. The 2023 GeoField Convening was held at the headquarters of the Food and Agricultural Organization in Rome, Italy.

GeoField's communities of practice are an urgent call to social scientists, agronomists, and climate scientists to work together with innovators, data, and technology providers to integrate Earth observation with impact evaluations for climate-sensitive agriculture in the developing world.  

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The GeoField community of practice  is a space for impact evaluators, remote sensing experts, and field organizations to brainstorm and problem solve about how Earth observation can lead to program insights that solve real world, long-running challenges of climate adaptation and agricultural development.
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