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Fall 2002
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International Agricultural Research and Development Community Seeks Solutions

Bringing GIS to Bear on Global Hunger and Food Security Problems

With global population expected to reach nine billion by 2050, and most of the increase coming in developing countries, improved efficiency in global food production will be vital to sustainable development. Advances in information and communication technologies (ICT) and GIS are having significant impacts on research and development in global agriculture. Farmers, agricultural engineers, extension agents, development specialists, and others are increasingly using GIS to practice precision agriculture, assess the impact of agricultural development projects, plan farm activities based on weather analyses, and match crop varieties to environments for improved seed selection--to name just a few areas where GIS is applied to agricultural problems.

Yet, the application of GIS and ICT to developing country agriculture is far from reaching its potential. Opportunities abound for new applications focused on small farmers and subsistence agriculture in the less developed countries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

To address the unrealized potential of ICT and GIS in third world agriculture, the Geospatial Applications to Support Sustainable International Agriculture (GASSIA) workshop, May 19-30, 2002, brought more than 65 geographic information science and technology professionals from 28 international organizations to the EROS Data Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to plan new initiatives aimed at improving agricultural efficiency worldwide.

The workshop was hosted by the U.S. Geological Survey International Program and sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Rockefeller Foundation. The workshop included agricultural research centers from the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, the Collaborative Research Support Program, and other organizations working in sustainable development. Also covered were spatial metadata and clearinghouse node development, Esri-led training in ArcIMS 4, a seminar on GIS and intellectual property rights, and a two-day collaborative planning exercise.

One outcome of the workshop was a commitment to adopt best practices in the application of spatial data infrastructure concepts. For example, it was decided that many of the participants would use ArcIMS 4 to serve geographic information from their organizational Web sites at the distributed GIS demonstration project during the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, August 26-September 4, 2002.

The workshop participants hope to attract a wide range of participants and sponsor organizations to develop a strategy for future ICT and GIS for developing world agriculture. Robert Ford, a geographer at USAID, said, "These initiatives must be seen as a long-term vision that will take 10-15 years to achieve--not a specific project."

According to Nick Thomas, Esri agricultural industry solutions representative, "We need to make a greater effort to show decision makers in the agricultural research and development community the potential of ICT and GIS technology for international sustainable agriculture."

For more information, contact Glenn Hyman, University of Redlands, in California (e-mail:; tel.: 909-793-2121, ext. 4169), or Nick Thomas, Esri agricultural industry solutions representative (e-mail:; tel.: 909-793-2853, ext. 1-1305).

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