The consequences of a shifting climate are made manifest in a constant drumbeat of headlines this year. July 2023 was the hottest month on record; Canada’s wildfire season was the worst in history; and global food prices have soared, in part due to regional crop failures driven by drought and heat (on top of post-Covid inflation and the war in Ukraine).
While climate change will likely prove enormously disruptive to global food systems, some of the world’s poorest countries are the most vulnerable by far. They will need investments in development programs to spur the adoption of climate-sensitive agricultural practices that can adapt to unprecedented changes in weather, rainfall, and extreme heat events. An IMF group estimates that these costs could exceed 1% of annual GDP in 50 low-income countries. Yet, aid organizations and domestic governments alike often lack the information they need to efficiently invest in these programs and measure their impacts.
The GeoField project was designed to bridge this gap. A partnership between AidData at William & Mary, DevGlobal, MercyCorps, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, GeoField was launched with a $4.74-million, four-year investment from the Gates Foundation last September. Bringing together climate scientists, economists, agricultural aid providers, and evaluation experts, GeoField seeks to leverage cutting-edge Earth Observation (EO) tools and related techniques—such as high-resolution satellite imagery and machine learning—to radically reduce the cost and complexity of monitoring and evaluating agricultural programs and deliver insights more rapidly to decision makers.
One year after its launch, GeoField is holding its first in-person conference. From September 12-14, nearly 100 attendees will converge at the headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations in Rome, Italy. The GeoField Convening will bring together experts in impact evaluation, Earth Observation (the use of technologies and techniques to monitor planet Earth remotely, often from space), and development program implementation for three days of programming at the FAO and online. In-person registration has ended, but spots are still available to participate virtually. Those interested can learn more about the agenda and register to attend online; the conference is entirely free.
Two years in the making, the GeoField initiative encompasses case studies; new datasets, methods, and code; the development of interdisciplinary “Communities of Practice” to share knowledge; scientific papers and policy briefs; online tutorials; and in-person training and conferences, such as the GeoField Convening.
Join GeoField’s Communities of Practice, a space for brainstorming and solving problems about how to use Earth Observation in climate-sensitive agriculture
“Advances in Earth Observation have enormous potential to help us better understand the impacts of climate-sensitive agricultural programs,” said Dr. Ariel BenYishay, AidData’s Chief Economist and one of William & Mary’s Principal Investigators for the GeoField project. “We want to improve access to methods and resources that translate direct observations of long-term climate and land use changes into program-ready insights. This pushes the boundaries of scientific research while empowering farmers and aid organizations to respond to the urgent call of climate change,” he continued.
The GeoField convening features three days of training workshops, keynotes (from Dr. Ariel BenYishay and Dr. David LaBorde, Director of FAO’s Agrifood Economics Division), presentations, panel discussions, and, for those in-person, a networking session. On day 2, researchers and experts from AidData, the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the FAO, and more will present results from near-complete geospatial impact evaluations (GIEs) and other “rapid impact use cases”—in-progress impact evaluations that can rapidly be turned around to create insights for program implementers and policymakers. These range in topic from reducing erosion through sugarcane production in Nepal; detecting water conservation practices for rice irrigation in Bangladesh; evaluating agricultural support programs in conflict zones in Ukraine; uncovering the “last mile” impacts of connectivity projects in Kenya; and understanding how crop diseases are related to land use change and climate risks in Rwanda. In total, over two dozen impact evaluations will be presented at the GeoField Convening.
“Integrating Earth Observation with impact evaluations holds enormous promise. It enables us to directly observe the impacts of climate-sensitive agriculture programs on the ground and expand our access to important outcome measures, such as land use, erosion control, irrigation, water management, livestock, and more,” said Dr. Kunwar Singh, a Senior Geospatial Scientist at AidData who will be presenting the results of two GIEs and moderating several discussions.
Also featured are hands-on training sessions on day 1, including from Planet, a satellite data provider, on using their data visualization platform “Explorer” as well as their medium- and high-resolution satellite imagery. Other trainings will tech-up attendees on using GeoQuery, AidData’s free geospatial data extraction platform developed by Seth Goodman, AidData Research Scientist; the methodology and geospatial platform of the Hand-in-Hand Initiative, a flagship program of the FAO; and a new open data platform from the Agricultural Technology Adoption Initiative (ATAI) that brings together the best evidence from ATAI-funded research in a single portal.
“This is an exciting opportunity to pool knowledge across diverse disciplines and make better use of cutting-edge Earth Observation strategies for real impact,” said Jessica Wells, a Research Scientist at AidData who will be moderating a session on GIEs at the GeoField Convening. Wells is an experienced program evaluator who co-leads AidData’s Gender Equity in Development initiative with Dr. Rachel Sayers and Katherine Nolan, AidData Research Scientists who will also be moderating or presenting at the Convening. “Earth Observation tools and techniques can help us open doors to bring together domains that historically were siloed, in a way that moves the needle on evaluating agricultural programs that help mitigate climate change’s worst effects,” Wells continued.
Registration for virtual attendance at the GeoField Convening is still open; RSVP to attend online here.