Vital Signs is an integrated monitoring system for ecosystem services in agricultural landscapes.
Feeding the growing world population will require an estimated 70-100 percent increase in food production, but agricultural activities are degrading ecosystems and the benefits they provide for people faster now than ever before. There is an urgent need for better data, analytical methods and risk management approaches to guide sustainable agricultural development and ensure healthy and resilient livelihoods and ecosystems.
The Vital Signs monitoring system provides near-real time data and diagnostic tools to inform agricultural development decisions and monitor their outcomes. Vital Signs metrics and indicators will verify that investments to improve food production also support healthy natural systems and robust livelihoods for smallholder farmers. It fills a critical unmet need for integrative, holistic measurements of agriculture, ecosystem services and human well-being. The system will quantify sustainability and provide tools to evaluate risks and trade-offs by pooling multi-scale data into an open-access online dashboard for policy makers, the private sector and the scientific community.
Launched with a ground-breaking grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to Conservation International (CI), Vital Signs is co-led by CI, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in South Africa and the Earth Institute (EI), Columbia University. It is creating a “gold standard” environmental monitoring system, a global public good. Other donors have already expressed interest in joining the Vital Signs partnership.
The system is initially launching in 5 African regions – Tanzania, Ethiopia, Ghana, Uganda and Mozambique – with plans for expansion to other parts of Africa and the globe.
Sara Barbour is the Vital Signs Coordinator, responsible for program management, communications direction and international logistics. She is a graduate of Columbia University, and has previously worked for Hearst Corporation, the Pacific Standard, and as an apprentice on a biodynamic farm. Her blog and writing have appeared in The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times.
Kyle DeRosa is the Agriculture and Socioeconomic Coordinator for the Agriculture and Food Security Center of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, where he provides data management, analytics, and visualization for large multisectoral datasets. His experience is in enterprise software and development research. His research interests include the utilization of machine learning and data mining for socioeconomic and agricultural research, with a growing interest in algorithmic game theory.
Mark Musumba is a Postdoctoral Research fellow at the Agriculture and Food Security Center of the Earth Institute at Columbia. Mark is an agricultural economist and received both his MS and PhD from Texas A&M University. His research interests are on understanding the implications of human capital mobility and how changes in environmental resources and climate change affect agriculture and human well-being in developing economies.
Ravic Nijbroek is Vital Signs Research Scientist and a Director at the Betty and Gordon Moore Center for Ecosystem Science and Economics at Conservation International. Ravic has an interdisciplineray background in engineering and social science. He was a visiting scientist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi, where he worked on livestock vulnerability to tick-borne disease and also developed a GIS-based crop and livestock decision support system. In recent years he worked on climate change vulnerability of socio-ecological systems in Suriname, Brazil and the Philippines. Ravic has a M.E. in Agricultural and Biological Engineering (precision farming) and a Ph.D. in Human Geography (political ecology). He is a native of Suriname.
Roseline Remans is an Associate Research Scientist at the Agriculture and Food Security Center and at the Center for Globalization and Sustainable Development at the Earth Institute, Columbia University. Her research focuses on integrated approaches to human nutrition and bridges agriculture, environment and human health in poor-resource settings. Roseline received her PhD in Biosystem Engineering in 2007 from the University of Leuven, in collaboration with CGIAR-CIAT in Colombia and the national soils institute in Cuba. Roseline has working experience in Latin America, East, Central and West Africa, the US and Europe.