Mapping for food security wins Olam innovation prize

Science, smart tech & planetary health to shape food industry’s next decade - research
Credit: panuwat phimpha

The 2019 Olam Prize for Innovation in Food Security has been awarded to a pioneering mapping approach that is re-imagining subsistence farming.

Innovation Mapping for Food Security (IM4FS) is being developed by a team 2 coordinated by Dr Tomaso Ceccarelli of Wageningen Environmental Research in The Netherlands and Dr Eyasu Elias Fantahun of Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia.

The new approach is building on the strength of the CASCAPE project, which has been carried out in close cooperation with the Agricultural Growth Programme (AGP) of the Ethiopian government.

CASCAPE designed and implemented site-specific combinations of crops, soils and farming practices, enabling around 200,000 farmers to boost their harvests above the Ethiopian average, and start becoming self-sufficient by applying these best-practice interventions.

Whilst existing land evaluation approaches are focused on improving agricultural productivity, CASCAPE combines data with stakeholder engagement to ensure proposals will work in practice.

To ensure this, farmers, extension workers, local experts and planners are engaged from the start, bringing an understanding of the realities on the ground to any approaches.

This data and information is then fed into the GIS3-based tool, which then matches the best farming practices with bio-physical and socio-economic conditions in a given area.

The tool will then create ‘recommendation maps’ that highlight areas most suitable for specific innovations. Local stakeholders will then verify the recommendation against their specialist knowledge and expectations.

IM4FS takes these learnings one step further through its unique ability to offer a scenario planning function that informs decisions in agri-landscapes and food insecure areas.

This ultimately creates a more dynamic and interactive tool to provide simulations and aid stakeholder engagement. Combined, this was central to the judges awarding the $75,000 prize.

“The $75,000 Prize will help fund the roll-out of in-situ data collection by extension workers and other local staff, and develop the mapping tool to include the ‘scenario planning’ function,” said Dr Ceccarelli.

“The maps can then be used by government institutions, planners and others to simulate which agricultural interventions and investments should be undertaken where, when and how.”

Dr Fantahun added: “Ethiopia is a perfect example of a country in need of an innovative solution to boost productivity: it is the second largest country in Africa for arable land, but imports half of its food.

“It doesn’t have to be that way – there is the potential for self-sufficiency in grains and other staple crops, and the Ethiopian government is supporting this ambition with national policies.

“The funding from Olam will strengthen engagement between our researchers, planners and farmers, accelerating the adoption and implementation of specific agricultural innovations so as to improve food productivity and livelihoods at greater scale.”