ICARDA continued to digitize research in 2021 to make data collecting, information sharing, analysis, and decision-making faster, better, and more accurate. Even in the most distant and vulnerable dry places where ICARDA operates, global advances in technology, digital analytics, remote sensing, networks, and software, particularly on now-ubiquitous smartphones, make data gathering, analysis, reporting, and knowledge exchange more manageable and more efficient.
Based on four decades of drylands research, our unique and increasing pool of big data aids in the modeling and analysis of novel techniques, climatic variability, evaluation of new crop varieties and livestock enhancements, socioeconomics, and decision-making at all levels. When combined with those of sister centers under the One CGIAR reformulation, our data will produce a powerful resource that will substantially contribute to the fight against global climate change.
The objectives of ICARDA’s GeoAgro for sustainable agroecosystems team are fully aligned with the CGIAR Platform for Big Data: harnessing big data and information technology to accelerate and enhance the impact of international agricultural research to drive equitable rural development. In 2021, the GeoAgro team coauthored CGIAR’s Digital Extension Services, bridging the gap between developing and adopting new climate change adaptation strategies and developing geotagging and agro-tagging tools to digitize agriculture research and outreach.
In 2021, ICARDA’s GeoAgro introduced an atlas of real-time mapping of crop fallow dynamics and corresponding legume suitability for the sustainable intensification of legumes in cereal systems. To achieve this, the GeoAgro team developed new algorithms for mapping yield gaps at farm level—one of the first yield gap decomposition models and applications for data-limited regions—and produced the revamped GeoAgro Pro portal with enhanced features. This work, achieved in partnership with the Indian Council for Agricultural Research and with support from the International Fund for Agricultural Development, makes precision agriculture possible through real-time advisories with site-specific packages of practices, within the framework of the One CGIAR Excellence in Agronomy initiative.
In 2021, Dr. Chandrashekhar Biradar, then serving as the GeoAgro Team Leader, was awarded the India Agri-Extension Award 2021 in Innovation in Agricultural Extension. The award recognized the GeoAgro team’s digital innovation that advises small family farmers on input saving techniques, carbon sequestration, and yield improvement to increase their income, resilience, and sustainability.
Led by Mr. Udo Rudiger, ICARDA’s Agricultural Innovation Specialist, and Dr. Boubaker Dhehibi, ICARDA’s Agricultural Economist and ICT2Scale Co-Leader, the ICT2Scale project launched in Tunisia in 2019 to introduce information and communications technology (ICT) services to family farmers using cellphones to offer e-learning and extension services for crop and small ruminant production, beekeeping, and conservation agriculture. Although the project concluded in December 2021, its legacy will live on as the project’s ICT innovations, like e-learning training modules to be promoted by extension services and mobile apps, continue to support small landholders in Tunisia in the future. One example is “Kolfa,” a bilingual Arabic-French smartphone app that provides price information on agricultural commodities to Tunisian farmers in near real time. Introduced in August 2021, Kolfa has been downloaded over 1,000 times and is widely promoted online. ICT2Scale was funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and in collaboration with Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ).
In 2021, ICARDA became a founding partner of the Indigenous Knowledge and Research Infrastructure, a digital infrastructure that supports the implementation of the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS). In this role, ICARDA co-developed global dialogue and co-organized the UNFSS pre-summit on the Integration of Frontier Technologies and Indigenous Knowledge for Food Systems Transformation and its Summit Dialogues, addressing emerging science and technology-based solutions for integrating indigenous knowledge and experiences for food security. GeoAgro also co-organized the UNFSS Independent Dialogue in Egypt on the role of water security for food systems transformation. Additionally, the GeoAgro team organized and co-chaired the joint technical session with the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture and the International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage on advanced technologies and early warning systems to improve agricultural water productivity in transboundary water basins, and presented digital dynamism for agriculture water management in drylands at the 5th Arab Water Forum.
In 2021, ICARDA’s Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning (MEL) team, led by Enrico Bonaiuti, supported the evaluation of scientific credibility within the CGIAR Quality of Research for Development (Qo4RD) framework by developing a tool that validates peer-reviewed publications in an automated and efficient way. The MEL team also supported the development of CGIAR’s repository for grant-level agricultural research for development indicators by processing data on performance indicators used by ICARDA projects. The data is used in Graphileon, visual data analysis, and inference. In support of the One CGIAR initiatives, the MEL team created an online board to visualize and monitor their theories of change, integrated within the Online Submission Tool.
Also in 2021, ICARDA included barley and wheat in the world-renowned Plantix agricultural smart-device app. Plantix offers automated diagnostics for over 350 globally identified plant diseases, pests and nutrient deficiencies on more than 65 agricultural crops through real-time updates.
In 2021, as a part of an ongoing collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization of The United Nations (FAO), ICARDA’s MEL team translated about 800 concepts in AGROVOC, FAO’s agricultural data tool, into Arabic.
In 2021, the World Overview of Conservation Approaches and Technologies, developed in 2020, published 10 ICARDA innovations on three digital resources to help support wider dissemination on the ICARDA website and social media platforms. ICARDA also uploaded 93 publications to the MEL website in 2021. Of these, 58 are open access, thereby continuing ICARDA’s practice of ensuring that at least 60 percent of its resources are open access.
ICARDA’s MEL and Social, Economy and Policy Research (SEPR) teams received an award for a tool that helps better inform land planning and restoration activities. The award, issued by the Group on Earth Observation Land Degradation Neutrality Initiative, was overseen by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. The tool will allow participatory land-use planning efforts to more precisely target areas requiring land restoration, sustainable land degradation neutrality, and protection from ongoing degradation.