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Visualizing Results: Can GIS Enable New Ways of Looking at Agriculture Projects?

Using GIS technology to map results, CEAPRED staff can make their projects even more effective.

August 27, 2013
Madeleine Clark

The Center for Environmental and Agricultural Policy Research, Extension and Development(CEAPRED) is a Nepali NGO implementing sustainable solutions for poverty reduction through agriculture for the last 21 years. Funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, CEAPRED’s Vegetable Seed Project provides technical assistance and infrastructure support to help local farmers increase their crop yields and move beyond subsistence agriculture in 16 districts. While these projects are stimulating economic growth in the area, farmers and CEAPRED staff members were unable to visualize the exact impact of their project’s results. Using GIS technology to map results, CEAPRED staff can leverage this information to make their projects even more effective.

Establishing farming cooperatives is a cornerstone of CEAPRED’s strategy to ensure the sustainability of its projects. These cooperatives give shareholders a greater sense of ownership and closer linkages with produce and seed supply chains in Nepal and internationally. CEAPRED’s cooperatives employ a quota system for leadership positions, strengthening the voices of women, Dalits, and other traditionally disadvantaged groups.

As CEAPRED’s farming cooperatives support improved livelihood opportunities for rural residents and strengthen community institutions, the project may also reduce high rates of migration from Nepalis leaving the country in search of higher incomes. CEAPRED plans to conduct a study in Spring 2014 to analyze and document the effects of sustainability-focused interventions such as cooperatives which can reduce negative social phenomena like displacement and migration.

This summer, I held GIS trainings for CEAPRED staff in incorporating data visualization techniques into surveys and feasibility studies to better capture the impact of their agriculture projects. At present, CEAPRED field staff track information on a variety of indicators related to the Vegetable Seed Project’s activities and enter this data into CEAPRED’s Operational Database Engine. This database stores information down to the household level on crop area coverage and production (proxy variables to measure yield); income generated by project; and project beneficiaries by ethnicity, gender, and caste. While this data is stored, the next step would be to apply geographic coordinates to this data and visualize this information on a map to facilitate more analysis of results.

Photo: Assessing the impact of agriculture projects  with CEAPRED staff in Nepal.

Contributed by Madeleine Clark.

CEAPRED had explored using maps and GPS cameras to involve villagers interactively in tracking the results of other projects, such as the Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security (CCAFS) project in affiliation with the Consortium Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). In this case, the exercise was limited to plotting each participant’s household location using GPS technology.

In communities cut off from electricity, the Internet, and sometimes even running water, it is difficult to make GIS directly relevant to local people, but one must be creative. Using maps and visual aids would be of better use in impact and feasibility studies where the focus of the interaction is in capturing participant data and distributing information directly related to their income and wellbeing – the primary concern of shareholders in most CEAPRED projects.

Visualizing economic activity and the agriculture supply-chain in Nepal on maps and charts would communicate a message directly relevant to farmers in remote areas more effectively than words or raw data alone. Through this data visualization, farmers would be able to pinpoint data that could help them maximize their own income, benefiting the community overall. As communities achieve greater autonomy, open sources of information on crop yields, soil type, precipitation levels, and seed and produce prices could be invaluable for communities not only in improving their own methods, but for creating partnerships with other communities.

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Madeleine Clark is an AidData Summer Fellow with the Center of Environmental and Agricultural Policy Research, Extension, and Development (CEAPRED) in Nepal.