Vital Signs: better data. better decisions. sustaining people, nature, agriculture.

To achieve long-term food security in an uncertain climate, farmers need to increase agricultural productivity while avoiding unintended consequences for soil quality, water availability, and other benefits from healthy ecosystems. There is an urgent need for better data and risk management tools to guide agricultural development decisions, ensuring that they protect both people and nature.

Vital Signs (VS) was designed to address this challenge by providing integrated, near real-time measurements of agriculture, ecosystem services, and human well-being. These measurements are made at all of the scales relevant to agricultural decision making—from a household to a farm, a landscape, and at the scale of a nation.

Launched initially in Africa with a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to Conservation International (CI), Vital Signs provides data and diagnostic tools to leaders around the world to help inform agricultural decisions and monitor their outcomes. It is creating a “gold standard” environmental monitoring system. Vital Signs is led by CI in partnership with the Earth Institute (EI), Columbia University and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in South Africa.

The system has launched in 3 African countries – Tanzania, Ghana, and Uganda – with plans for expansion to other parts of Africa and the globe.

For more information or to invest:

About Vital Signs

Learn more about the Vital Signs Monitoring System.


Vital Signs would like to acknowledge the following individuals for their contributions to the design of the monitoring system and the Vital Signs data collection protocols.

Dr. John Antle Oregon State University
Dr. Alex Awiti Aga Khan University
Dr. Mohamed Bakarr Global Environment Facility
Dr. Ken Cassman University of Nebraska
Mr. Juan Carlos Castilla-Rubio Planetary Skin Institute
Ms. Elizabeth Chadri John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Dr. Ric Coe World Agroforestry Centre
Dr. Jan Dempewolf University of Maryland
Mr. Sam Dryden Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Mr. Gary Eilerts US Agency for International Development
Mr. Pierre Fabre French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development
Dr. John Foley University of Minnesota
Dr. Joshua Ginsberg Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
Dr. Ed Harrison National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration
Dr. Rashid Hassan University of Pretoria
Ms. Kristen Himelein World Bank
Dr. John Ingram Oxford University
Dr. Louise Jackson University of California, Davis
Dr. Rob Jongman Wageningen University
Dr. Chris Justice University of Maryland
Dr. John Latham Food & Agriculture Organization of the UN
Dr. Jianguo (Jack) Liu Michigan State University
Dr. David Lopez-Carr University of California, Santa Barbara
Dr. Shahid Naeem Earth Institute, Columbia University
Dr. Gerald Nelson International Food Policy Research Institute
Dr. Ephraim Nkonya International Food Policy Research Institute
Dr. Prabhu Pingali Cornell University
Dr. Steve Polasky University of Minnesota
Dr. Roseline Remans Earth Institute, Columbia University
Dr. Belinda Reyers Council for Scientific & Industrial Research, South Africa
Mr. Andrew Rosenberg Union of Concerned Scientists
Dr. Mary Ruckelshaus Stanford University
Dr. Luis Solorzano The Nature Conservancy
Dr. Shiv Someshwar Earth Institute, Columbia University
Dr. Kate Tully Earth Institute, Columbia University
Dr. Markus Walsh Earth Institute, Columbia University
Dr. Monika Zurek Climate Focus
Dr. Keith Shepherd World Agroforestry Center
Dr. Sean Smukler Columbia University

Technical Documents

Download information about Vital Signs system design and data use.

Vital Signs Data Use Policy June 2012 302KB PDF
Sampling Frame for the Vital Signs Global Monitoring System January 2013 1.3MB PDF

Workshop Reports

Read reports from Vital Signs workshops and meetings.

Uganda Stakeholder Workshop Report June 2015 638KB PDF
Tanzania Stakeholder Workshop Report April 2015 455KB PDF
Vital Signs Tradeoffs Workshop Report February 2014 562KB PDF
Uganda Stakeholders Workshop Report February 2014 130KB PDF
Vital Signs Information System Workshop Report October 2013 2.2MB PDF
Ethiopia Stakeholders Workshop Report February 2013 146KB PDF
Ghana Stakeholders Workshop Report December 2012 146KB PDF
Vital Signs Human Well-Being and Livelihoods Workshop Report November 2012 192KB PDF
Tanzania Stakeholders Workshop Report September 2012 127KB PDF

Vital Signs in the Press

Lack of Data on Soils Hurting Uganda’s Production, New Vision Uganda January 2015
Tanzania: Government for New Monitoring System in Agriculture, Tanzania Daily News via allAfrica September 2014
Tanzania Launches Plan to Fight Climate Impacts on Agriculture, State of the Planet September 2014
Tanzania Government for New Monitoring System in Agriculture, Africa-News August 2014
Executive Director of Vital Signs Meets Uganda Minister of Agriculture, Africa Innovations Institute Blog January 2014
Taking Nature's Pulse in Tanzania's Breadbasket, Human Nature September 2013
One Smallholder's Warning for Farming in Africa, World Economic Forum Blog May 2013
Interview with Vital Signs Executive Director, International Innovation Magazine November 2012
Sustainability in Africa, ESRI ArcNews Fall 2012
Data and Systems for Smart Environmental Decisions, Financial Times June 2012

Click below to view the Vital Signs protocols.

Protocol: E-Plot Biomass Measurements March 2014 6 MB PDF
Protocol: E-Plot Soil Sampling and Processing March 2014 2.3 MB PDF
Protocol: Rapid Roadside Assessments March 2014 1.9 MB PDF
Protocol: Water Availability and Quality March 2014 418 KB PDF
Protocol: Household Survey March 2014 7.1 MB PDF
Protocol: Agricultural Management Intensity Survey March 2014 7 MB PDF
Protocol: Farm Field Soil Sampling and Processing March 2014 1.1 MB PDF
Protocol: Weather Stations March 2014 2.1 MB PDF

Vital Signs Oversight Council

Peter Seligmann

Peter Seligmann

Council Chair
Chairman, Chief Executive Officer, Co-Founder
Conservation International

Peter A. Seligmann has been a leader in creating conservation solutions for the past 35 years. Since he founded the organization in 1987, Conservation International has earned a reputation as an organization creating innovative and lasting solutions to the threats facing humanity, biodiversity, and natural systems. He has developed strong partnerships between Conservation International and leaders in science, industry, government, entertainment, and communities around the world. Seligmann serves on several corporate boards as well as on the advisory councils of the Jackson Hole Land Trust, Ecotrust, and other not-for-profit organizations, including the Wild Salmon Center. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and also is a member of the Environment Committee of the International Public Policy Advisory Board for The Coca Cola Company. President Clinton named him a member of the Enterprise for the Americas Board in 2000. Seligmann has a Masters of Science in Forestry and Environmental Science from Yale University and a Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Ecology from Rutgers University and an Honorary Doctorates in Science from Michigan State University and Rutgers University.

Rachel Chikwamba, Ph.D.

Rachel Chikwamba, Ph.D.

CSIR Group Executive, Strategic Alliances and Communication
Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, South Africa

Dr. Rachel Chikwamba is a principal scientist in the Plant Biotechnology group at the CSIR Biosciences. She is an internationally recognized research leader in her field of expertise and is a member of various global consortia, including European Union framework programs such as Pharmaplanta, EMPRO and more recently CHAARM. She is a principal investigator on several multimillion rand research initiatives focusing on the expression on antibodies in tobacco and candidate subunit vaccines. Chikwamba is the scientific leader of the GreenPharm initiative, and the winner of the inaugural Innovation Fund SA Bioplan competition in 2008. She mentors several postgraduate students at all levels, and teaches undergraduate and post graduate courses at the University of Pretoria where she has a teaching appointment in the Department of Plant Science. Chikwamba is a member of the Academy of Science of South Africa, an honorary research fellow at St Georges Hospital, University of London, a CSIR Bioscience Fellow and a member of the CSIR Strategic Research Panel.

Jane Karuku

Jane Karuku

Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa

Mrs. Karuku is the President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), an Africa based, African-led organization committed to fighting food insecurity in Africa and uplifting millions of smallholder farmers out of poverty through smallholder agriculture transformation. Mrs. Karuku's career spans over 20 years, most of which has been in the agriculture sector. She has held senior positions in a number of international corporate organizations including Farmers Choice and Cadbury Limited, where she served as the Managing Director with responsibility for 14 countries in the East and Central African region. Mrs. Karuku joined AGRA in April 2012 from Telkom Kenya, where she was the Deputy Chief Executive and Secretary General from July 2010. She sits on various boards including Barclays Bank -Kenya, Junior Achievement-Kenya and United States International University-Kenya. Mrs. Karuku earned an MBA in Marketing from the National University of California, USA and holds a degree in Food Science and Technology from the University of Nairobi.

Hon. Jumanne Maghembe, Ph.D.

Hon. Dr. Jumanne Maghembe

Minister of Water
Republic of Tanzania

Minster of Water Hon. Jumanne Maghembe has served Tanzania as the Minister of Agriculture, the Minister of Education and Vocational Training, the Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism, and the Minister of Labor, Employment and Youth Development. He received a Masters in Forestry Science from Duke University and a Ph.D. from the University of Dar es Salaam. He has worked as a Senior Lecturer at the University of Dar es Salaam and as a Principle Scientist at the International Centre for Research in Agroforestry.

Alfred Oteng-Yeboah, Ph.D.

Alfred Oteng-Yeboah, Ph.D.

University of Ghana

Professor Alfred Oteng-Yeboah is the chair of the IPSI Steering Committee and the retired Deputy Director-General at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research of Ghana (CSIR) in charge of Environment and Health. He has served as a Chair to both the Bureau of the Subsidiary body for Science and Technical Advice as well as the Committee on Communication, Education, and Public Awareness to the United Nations Convention of Biodiversity. He has held positions as the President of the Ghana Institute of Biology, Chairman of the Ghana National Biodiversity Committee, and Chairman of the Natural Sciences Committee, UNESCO Commission, Ghana.

Pedro Sanchez, Ph.D.

Pedro Sanchez, Ph.D.

Agriculture and Food Security Center
Earth Institute, Columbia University

Pedro Sanchez is the director of the Agriculture and Food Security Center of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and a senior research scholar. Sanchez served as director general of the World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF) headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, from 1991 to 2001, and as co-chair of the UN Millennium Project Hunger Task Force. He also directs the African Soils Information Service (AfSIS), which is developing a digital soils map of the world, and received his B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in soil science from Cornell University. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Society of Agronomy, the Soil Science Society of America, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He serves on the Board of Agriculture and Natural Resources of the National Academy of Sciences. Sanchez has received honorary Doctor of Science degrees from the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium; the University of Guelph, Canada; and Ohio State University, USA. He is professor emeritus of soil science and forestry at North Carolina State University. Sanchez is the 2002 World Food Prize laureate and a 2004 MacArthur Fellow.

Stanley Wood, Ph.D.

Senior Program Officer
Agricultural Development Program
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Stanley Wood joined the Policy team in the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Agricultural Development Program in early 2013 to lead a grant-making portfolio related to improved data systems and analytics to support strategic policy and investment decision-making. Prior to his move, Stanley was a Senior Research Fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Washington, DC, where he led IFPRI's research on spatial analysis in a policy and investment context, and the CGIAR’s Consortium on Spatial Information. While at IFPRI, Stanley was also a coordinating lead author on both the Food (Services) and Cultivated Systems chapters in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Global Report. Previously, under a joint appointment between CIAT and IFPRI, Stanley managed a LAC regional research evaluation project based in Cali, Colombia. Prior to joining the CGIAR system, Stanley worked as an independent consultant to FAO, WMO, UNDP, USAID and other development organizations on natural resource, land use, and agricultural data and analysis systems based in Indonesia, Italy, the UK and Libya. Stanley holds a M.Sc. in water resources development, a M.Sc. in agricultural development, and a Ph.D. in agricultural economics.

Vital Signs Technical Council

Sandy Andelman, PhD
Sandy Andelman, PhD, Executive Director of Vital Signs, is Chief Scientist and Senior Vice President for the Betty and Gordon Moore Center for Science and Oceans at Conservation International. She previously served as Deputy Director of the U.S. National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), one of the world’s top ecological research institutes. Her scientific expertise includes tropical ecosystems, biodiversity, climate change and interactions between the environment and human well-being. Dr. Andelman has pioneered the creation of global monitoring and forecasting systems for climate change and ecological change—early-warning systems—to recognize and predict thresholds of environmental degradation in time to prevent them and to promote resilient human societies. She has a Ph.D. in behavioral ecology from the University of Washington.
Cheryl Palm, PhD
Cheryl Palm, PhD, Deputy Director of Vital Signs, is Senior Research Scientist at the Agriculture and Food Security Center of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. A tropical ecologist and biogeochemist, Dr. Palm’s research focuses on land use change, degradation and rehabilitation, and ecosystem processes in tropical agricultural landscapes. She led a major effort quantifying carbon stocks, losses and net greenhouse gas emissions following slash and burn and alternative land use systems in the humid tropics in the Brazilian and Peruvian Amazon, Indonesia, and Cameroon in the 1990s. She has spent much of the past 15 years investigating soil nutrient dynamics in farming systems of Sub Saharan Africa, including options for soil and land rehabilitation. Dr. Palm received her Ph.D. in soil science from North Carolina State University.
Bob Scholes, PhD
Bob Scholes, PhD, Deputy Director of Vital Signs, is a systems ecologist and Professor at Witwatersrand University, Johannesburg. He has worked on various aspects of Global Change – particularly on how African savannas interact with the global carbon cycle – for over two decades. He has been a Lead Author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its third, fourth and current (fifth) assessments. He is on the board of the South African National Space Agency and is a former board member of the South African National Parks and the World Agroforestry Centre. He was one of the designers of the Global Earth Observation System of Systems and is the chair of the GEO Biodiversity Observation Network. He was a member of the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change.


Kyle DeRosa
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, PhD
Mark Musumba, PhD, 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.
Patrick Mutuo, PhD
Patrick Mutuo, PhD, is the Africa Field Director for Vital Signs. His research and management experience spans 15 years, and he specializes in the fields of soil nutrient cycling, carbon sequestration, crop modeling, agricultural value chains and multi-sectoral approaches. He has worked in Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Tanzania and the UK. From 2011 - 2013 he headed the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) office in the DRC, where he also served as Project Coordinator and Soil Scientist, researching Integrated Soil Fertility Management in East, Central and Southern Africa. Dr. Mutuo has also served as the Regional Agriculture Specialist at the Millennium Development Goals Centre in Nairobi, and as the Science Coordinator and Team Leader for the first Millennium Villages Project site in Sauri, Kenya (an initiative of the Earth Institute, Columbia University). Dr. Mutuo holds a BSc degree in Forestry and an MSc degree in Environmental Sciences from Moi University, Kenya, and a PhD in Soil Science from Imperial College, University of London.
Tabby Kabui Njung’e
Tabby Kabui Njung’e is the Technical Operations Manager for Vital Signs. Her role involves supporting the Africa Field Director and providing technical oversight for all Vital Signs field activities. She manages protocol versioning, reporting, and work planning as well as training and capacity building for the country field teams. She comes to Vital Signs with experience in project planning and management, design and implementation of monitoring and evaluation frameworks, design of data collection tools and data quality assurance. She holds a BSc in Environmental Sciences from Egerton University, and a post-graduate Diploma in Project Management. She is also pursuing her MSc in Environmental Sciences at Kenyatta University, Kenya.
Amanda Obadha
Christine Amanda Obadha is the Administrative and Finance Assistant for Vital Signs, based in Nairobi. She comes to the project with experience in administration from Morphosis Ltd., and architectural and interior design firm, and prior to that she worked for Swift Technologies Ltd. as well as UNHCR OIOS Division. Amanda has a degree in Business Administration from Kenya Methodist University. She is interested in creating good working formulations in line with an organization's core values, for smooth running of its resources.
Roseline Remans
Roseline Remans, PhD, 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.
Clare Sullivan
Clare Sullivan has a Masters in International Affairs from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, with a focus on environmental science and policy. Her work includes assessing land use land cover changes, developing indicators for monitoring environmental sustainability, and evaluating the potential of incentives programs to enhance ecosystem services and benefit local communities. She has worked on projects with the National Park Service in the US, the CGIAR system in the Peruvian Andes and Amazon Basin, and with UNEP in Haiti.
Kevin Tschirhart
Kevin Tschirhart is the Agriculture and Socioeconomic Coordinator for the AgCenter. Prior to that, he worked in a market research and opinion poll institute (IFOP) in Paris. More recently, he worked at Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) at the Earth Institute on a household survey to assess the socio-economic and environmental conditions of two watersheds in the border area between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. He has a MS in Management from the Euromed Marseille business school in France and a MA in Applied Social Research from the City University of New York.