To ensure CGIAR can harness our unique knowledge assets for better decision-making and global knowledge sharing, we continued to digitalize our research across disciplines in 2020, in preparation for the One CGIAR reformulation. The future combined strength of this pooled data and tools from all CGIAR centers will constitute a formidable resource that will contribute significantly to the battle against global climate challenges.
Pooling Global Resources
ICARDA’s Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning (MEL) Team, led by Enrico Bonaiuti, developed the WOCAT digital explorer which enables development organizations to rapidly identify suitable and sustainable land management innovations for the countries in which they operate. The Central Asia Climate Portal, also developed by MEL alongside ICARDA’s GeoAgro Team led by Dr. Chandra Shekhar Biradar and funded by the World Bank through the Regional Environmental Centre for Central Asia, pools climate data and satellite imaging from a range of official sources. The information is delivered to key policymakers and researchers to aid climate change decision processes and learning across Central Asia.
MEL’s Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning Quality Assurance Processor, or ‘M-QAP’, was launched in 2020 to source data from a range of mainstream research databases to simplify and support results reporting across the CGIAR. The project is funded by the CGIAR System Organization – and with intellectual contribution from the Alliance of Bioversity International, the CGIAR Research Programs on Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals, and on Roots, Tubers and Bananas, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), and ICARDA. M-QAP compliments MEL’s development of the CGIAR Intellectual Assets (IA) E-Reporting tool, which aims to support all CGIAR Centers to standardize IA reporting. These different tools are developed within the overall MEL effort to improve data collection, processing and reporting, as presented in the ICARDA Indicators Reference Manual.
Also in 2020, the Partnership for Research and Innovation in the Mediterranean Area (PRIMA) began using MEL as its prime monitoring and evaluation tool, to strengthen the extent and complexity of its intervention framework. PRIMA is a joint program undertaken by its 19 participating states aimed at creating a competitive environment for solutions development in research and innovation across the Mediterranean area.
Through its MEL Team, ICARDA became the official AGROVOC Editors for Arabic in addition to its contribution to the English language version, vastly increasing integration among ICARDA’s online tools and systems. These are now accessible in multiple languages, which has helped to improve knowledge discoverability from the Central and West Asia, and North Africa region – in line with the recent Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable (FAIR) policy approved by CGIAR.
In 2020, our Geoinformatics for sustainable Agro-Ecosystems (GeoAgro) team led by Dr. Chandra Shekhar Biradar ramped up the digitalization of research through its geo-big data-driven platform to leverage the latest cutting-edge technological innovations driven by geo big-data, earth observation, citizen science and ICTs. The GeoAgro Team also developed a number of Geotagging and Agrotagging tools to assist digitalization of research and outreach. Selected ICARDA projects contained GeoAgro pilot elements while staff and partners were trained on geotagging tools. The implementation of geo-referenced field data collection with geotagging tools led to the collection of over 2500 datasets for mapping farming systems across dry regions in 2020.
We were also thrilled in October 2020, when four of our GeoAgro-related projects made it to the final 15 (out of 120 entries) in the CGIAR Big Data Inspire awards. (This, in addition to the ongoing development of ICARDA’s GeoAgro portal, which is funded by CRP Big Data and CIAT and functions as an institutional gateway for research and decision support based on geodata). Two of the projects went on to win:
The ClimaCell Locust Project led by ClimaCell and GeoAgro, is a 360° digital tool that monitors locust activity and is accessible to farmers through smartphones, as well as authorities and public and private sector organizations.
The Big Data in Resilience of Rangeland Communities project, led by the International Livestock Research Institute alongside ICARDA’s Dr. Mouinr Louhaichi and GeoAgro aims to establish the first-ever global data platform to pool rangeland data and satellite imagery from established and new sources. The platform facilitates accurate decision-making in rangelands’ health, risks, and opportunities for restoration.
AGENT of change
Another exciting, digital-focused initiative is the Activated Genebank Network (AGENT) project funded by the European Union and launched in 2020. Working with ICARDA’s Dr. Filippo Bassi, AGENT standardizes and pools phenotype information from global gene bank networks, including those of CGIAR, within a single database. The project will revolutionize the sharing of plant genetic resource information and uncover a rich collection of genetic resources.
Low cost, high impact digital approaches
Working in a different area is our ICT2Scale project. Funded by German development agency GIZ, this project aims to enhance access to e-learning and cell phone-based services to strengthen extension for smallholder farmers in Tunisia. In 2020, ICT2Scale sent out technical SMS to 1,000 farmers concerning crop and small ruminant production, bee-keeping, and conservation agriculture. The market prices for 10 agricultural commodities were also made available to the beneficiary farmers via cell phones.
Led by ICARDA’s Khaled Al-Shamaa, and funded by the Breeding Modernization project, the Query the Breeding Management System (QBMS) enables scientists to retrieve their experiment data from the standard Breeding Management System (BMS) database for further use within the ‘R’ context. QBMS provides coverage of a wide range of analytics, visualization, data transformations, and manipulations that could not have been delivered within the BMS itself. The interface combining all the flexibility of an R environment with the referential integrity, persistence, and cohesion of a centralized database like the BMS. QBMS fits with the CGIAR strategy expectation set by the Excellence in the Breeding initiative.