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Scientists launch African agricultural monitoring system; global network to follow

As previewed in Nature last fall, scientists at Conservation International and other institutions have launched a new initiative intended to gather and integrate data about agriculture, ecosystems and human well-being in Africa. Backed by an initial US$10-million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the three-year project is expected to set the stage for a larger global-monitoring system, organizers announced Thursday at a meeting of the International Fund for Agricultural Development in Rome.

“If you care about the poorest, you care about agriculture,” Bill Gates said as he announced this and other grants worth nearly $200 million. “The international agriculture community needs to be more innovative, coordinated, and focused to help poor farmers grow more. If we can do that, we can dramatically reduce suffering and build self-sufficiency.”

We initially covered this story when organizers held a meeting with potential donors last September (see Scientists push for agricultural monitoring). The idea has its roots in the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring Network headed by Sandy Andelman at Conservation International, based in Arlington, Virginia. Andelman penned a commentary in our pages last year and will also lead the new Africa Monitoring System in partnership with researchers from the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and Columbia University’s Earth Institute in New York.

The goal is to integrate information about human health and social well-being with basic data about local and regional environments, with the goal of improving decisions about how to allocate resources and improve agricultural systems in a more sustainable manner. This will be crucial if the world is to provide food for a growing population while maintaining healthy natural ecosystems that humans depend on, Andelman says. “If we continue to make decisions with inadequate, imperfect information, we will fail at meeting this challenge of making sure everyone on the planet has enough food to eat while Earth’s life-support system is sustained.”

Photo: Sandy Andelman

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    Paul Anderson said:

    CI’s list of strategic partners appear to be primarily a who’s who of the most problematic agribusiness interests. Surely if CI’s goal is to reform these “too big to fail” companies, they should consider a national boycott in the U.S. as opposed to unleashing them like locusts on a continent that already has significant populations. Why does Nature publish this free commercial advertisement every time B&M Gates drop a nickel in the bucket? They appear to be part and parcel of the resource grab, the protean uber-corporation prepared to fleece indigenous African farmers by accusing them of incompetence. Egypt used to feed its people before the “progress”,brought by the Aswan high dam. Shame on Bill and Melinda and CI for propagating exploitation by western agribusiness.

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