Editors note: this article was first published on AidData's blog, The First Tranche.
Dr. Carly Muir, a Geospatial Analyst at AidData, addresses the GeoField 2023 Convening in Rome.
Emerging from the successful GeoField 2023 Convening in September in Rome, two prestigious academic journals have issued calls for papers at the intersection of Earth Observation (EO), climate change, and agriculture.
Hosted at The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ headquarters, the GeoField conference drew 100 participants from 41 countries, featuring 38 speakers from 14 nations, including organizations implementing agriculture programs, evaluators, bilateral aid agencies, multilateral development banks, space agencies, and crop research organizations. Presentations spotlighted how advancements in EO technologies and accessibility, when integrated effectively with field programs and impact evaluations, can help reduce erosion in sugarcane production in Nepal; evaluate agricultural support programs in conflict zones in Ukraine; and better understand the links between crop disease, land use change, and climate risk in Rwanda.
“What truly sets GeoField apart is its ability to bridge the gap between diverse fields of expertise, groups that haven’t necessarily always worked together,” said Dr. Ariel BenYishay, AidData’s Chief Economist and one of William & Mary’s Principal Investigators for the GeoField project. “Climate scientists, economists, agricultural aid providers, and evaluation experts converged under the GeoField umbrella, fostering an environment of important interdisciplinary collaboration at a critical time.”
Over the course of the three-day event, experts in impact evaluation, EO, and development program implementation provided training workshops and collaborated through panel discussions and presentations of ongoing research on how to make agricultural impact evaluations more effective, especially in the context of climate-sensitive agriculture. Video recordings of the training sessions, keynote presentations, and panel discussions are now available at https://www.geofield.org/convening-2023
“Climate change's urgency demands innovative agricultural investments in vulnerable, low-income nations,” said Alice Laborte, Geospatial Scientist and Lead, Digital and Spatial Landscape Transformation Research Unit with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines. “This convening which fosters knowledge exchange and discussions on the use of earth observation for impact evaluation, aligns with IRRI's climate change strategy for transformative and sustainable outscaling of climate change adaptation and mitigation practices in the rice sector.”
The Convening was organized in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (“Gates Foundation”) and the FAO. A partnership between AidData at William & Mary, DevGlobal, MercyCorps, and the Gates Foundation, GeoField was launched in September 2022 with a $4.74-million, four-year investment from the Foundation.
Presentations of research from AidData, the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the FAO, IRRI, and others covered a wide array of opportunities to use remotely-sensed data in ongoing impact evaluations. Attendees were drawn from Farm Africa, the European Space Agency, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, Global Green Growth Institute, and NASA, to name a few.
“The use of geospatial analysis, especially if combined with administrative data, offers vast opportunity for countries to improve the design, monitoring, and impact evaluation of programs focused on soil health, agricultural productivity, and climate resilience—but many Governments are either not fully aware of these opportunities or lack the capacity to exploit them at scale,” said Klaus Deininger, Lead Economist at the World Bank’s Development Research Group. “By bringing together policy makers, think tanks, academia, and multilateral institutions to showcase how these opportunities were used, GeoField promises to help close this gap. The Convening catalyzed a host of new collaborative efforts, and we look forward to the results helping to improve policy-making and forge partnerships to assist countries in addressing the significant challenges ahead.”
The conference also featured demonstration and training sessions of tools to help researchers access and utilize geospatial data. EO technologies offer opportunities to improve the accuracy and coverage of outcome measures such as land use, erosion control, irrigation, water management, and livestock, making them essential tools for evaluating agricultural programs, especially in the face of climate change.
Training workshops included demonstrations of Planet’s “Explorer” platform,” AidData’s geospatial data extraction platform GeoQuery, the FAO’s Hand-in-Hand GeoSpatial Platform, and the Agricultural Technology Adoption Initiative (ATAI).
“It was remarkable to see the diversity of experts brought together by a common goal: to promote agricultural sustainability and integrate cutting edge geospatial techniques into development work,” said Dr. Carly Muir, a Geospatial Analyst at AidData who uses spatial analyses, including time series satellite imagery and remote sensing-based models, to examine human-environment interactions, primarily related to agricultural production, sustainability, and climate change.
Prior to joining AidData in 2023, Muir completed her Ph.D. at the University of Florida, where she combined her formal training as a geographer with a concentration in Climatology and interdisciplinary specializations in Environmental Geoscience and Agricultural Studies.
Her research has taken her to several African nations to conduct field work, including for her dissertation, where she examined the socio-ecological effects of large-scale land acquisitions in Ethiopia. She has also worked as a graduate researcher studying water scarcity and conflict in Africa and at NASA examining the impact of floods on infrastructure in Central America.
“As an early career scientist, GeoField was an incredible experience, a meeting that facilitated constructive dialogue among scientists and professionals who approach agricultural development from various angles. It was also an excellent opportunity to receive feedback on the use cases I am currently developing within the GeoField project, employing geospatial techniques to map irrigation of rice farms in Bangladesh,” said Dr. Muir.
Following on from the Convening, two leading academic journals have issued calls for papers. Published articles will appear in special issues of the Journal of Development Economics (JDE) and the International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation. Researchers and practitioners are invited to submit to the JDE’s special edition on “Integrating Earth Observation into Impact Studies on Agriculture and Climate Change,” which aims to “highlight efforts to integrate Earth observation (EO) into economic analysis of climate adaptation in low and middle income agriculture” by “[bringing] together papers that adapt EO models to answer agriculture-related impact questions in developing country contexts.”
The special edition of the International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation “aims to disseminate GIE research and applications with the latest, cutting-edge advances and emerging techniques in the integration of EO into IEs.” The call also notes that topics include, but are not limited to, “agricultural (e.g., irrigation, hybrid cultivars, climate-smart agriculture), conservation and restoration investments (e.g., soil-erosion prevention measures, farmland restoration to natural systems), and environmental (e.g., solar energy, wind power, etc.).”
Guest editors for both special editions will include Dr. BenYishay and AidData’s Senior Geospatial Scientist Dr. Kunwar Singh. Manuscript submissions are due to both journals in mid-2024.