Vital Signs Takes Big Steps Towards Monitoring Sustainability and Resilience for Food Security in Sub Saharan Africa

  • April 8, 2019
  • Posted by: bkibiti

The third consultative workshop for the Integrated Approach Program on Food Security (IAP-FS) funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) was held from 12 – 15 March in Bolgatanga, Ghana. The workshop provided an opportunity for Conservation International’s Vital Signs Program to present the achievements made towards establishing a system for monitoring sustainability and resilience for food security in Sub Saharan Africa.  

The workshop was attended by over 70 stakeholders on the IAP-FS Project including the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO),  International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), United Nations Development Program (UNDP), United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), Bioversity International, the European Space Agency (ESA) and some representatives of the 12 country projects supported by the Program. 

The IAP-FS seeks to tackle major drivers of environmental degradation by advancing a holistic approach to enhancing agricultural productivity in smallholder systems, where food security is directly tied to agriculture and to ecosystem health.  It also seeks to mainstream gender and nutrition in all stages of the project to address the food security.  

The Program has 3 components. The first component aims to engage stakeholders across the public and private sectors, and across the environmental and agricultural interests to generate awareness of the importance of and demand for integrated solutions. The second component is about scaling up, diversifying and adapting proven sustainable land management practices which enhance ecosystem health and improve productivity. The third component is to develop and apply methods and tools to track impacts of project activities and general trends in terms of ecosystem and socio-economic resilience and feed these findings into decision making fora via the first component.  

Conservation International (CI) is one of the many partners in this program including the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), Bioversity International, FAO, IFAD, UNDP, European Space Agency (ESA). CI, through its Vital Signs program, and in partnership with UNEP and Bioversity, is leading the development of a conceptual framework for multi-scale monitoring and assessment of ecosystem services and socio-economic benefits from the projects. A year down the line, CI has made some significant progress towards this goal as presented by Dr. Peter, Alele, Director, Vital Signs Program. 

First, a monitoring and assessment framework was developed with indicators for assessing ecosystem services of provisioning, regulating and cultural, food security resilience and gender mainstreaming. The framework is a guiding document that outlines the potential benchmarks, data collection and analysis methods and data sources for measuring success in improving food security. The framework also proposes various online assessment tools to be used by the projects including the Resilience Atlas, Trends.Earth and Vital SignsTrends.Earth  is an online platform that monitors and assesses indicators for land degradation through the reduction or loss of the biological or economic productivity of land. Using satellite imagery and global data, Trends.Earth can identify areas experiencing decline in productivity, land cover change, and changes in carbon stocks for informing decision-makers. The tool can analyze area globally while allowing for the digestion of customized datasets to improve localized analyses. The Resilience Atlas allows for overlays of various datasets within an online platform for decision making on factors affecting food security. Vital Signs is a system comprised of standardized protocols that guide data collection, measurement and analysis at every intervention scale to generate decision support tools for policy and practice in agriculture.  

Secondly, the Resilience Atlas has been customized for use by the IAP-FS. The IAP-FS Resilience Atlas ( provides satellite-based data on various indicators from the available and most recent datasets for all project sites and countries. This allows users to derive insights from large surveys and climate datasets by visualizing the factors that affect resilience to stressors and shocks like climate change.  These factors include contextual factors such as: climate, land cover, land productivity, and infrastructure; stressors and shocks including levels of land degradation, disease, conflict, forest loss and rainfall and temperature patterns; and assets and capacities and their uses.  The Atlas allows users to relate the different factors with each other and analyze how they influence food security in their regions. During the workshop, participants were trained on how to access and apply the information from the IAP-FS Resilience Atlas.  

Best practices guidelines for using remote sensing for food security were also presented at the workshop. The guidelines provide information about indicators that can be accessed from datasets from remote sensing, the benefits of this information for monitoring projects, considerations for selecting data products and verification and validation methods for remote sensing data. Participants at the workshop were guided, through examples, to use satellite earth observation as a source of project monitoring data and how to compare this data with field data where it is available.   

Land cover maps for 2018 for all the countries participating in the IAP-FS were also presented to participants at the workshop as part of the contribution from CI. The maps will serve as the baseline for the land cover status for these countries to guide in implementing project activities.  The maps will also aid in the individual countries’ spatial planning, disaster management, biomass estimation, mapping land degradation, erosion, crop production estimation, changes in forest cover, carbon sequestration among others.  

From the land cover maps, some insights were drawn, and they include; 

  1. A comparison on forest cover and food security index seems to suggest that higher forest cover relates to a country’s food security. However, there are still other main factors that determine a country’s food security. 
  2. Expansion of crop land may not necessarily translate to food security. A comparison of forest cover, cropland and global hunger indicates that more cropland results in less hunger, but only to a certain extent.  

The workshop also presented opportunities for the Vital Signs team to engage with individual countries that showed interest to use the CI tools, and plan for training of their staff in the use of these tools. Prior to the workshop, a needs assessment was conducted by Vital Signs to identify capacity gaps among the project management and monitoring and evaluation teams in the countries in adopting the framework and tools proposed for monitoring and assessment.

For more information, please email Dr. Peter Alele or Everline Ndenga

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