“We need to put monitoring tools at the center of everything, so Africa’s most important resource—smallholder farmers—can thrive.”
Tumusiime Rhoda Peace
Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture African Union
Smallholder Farmers are Africa's Most Important Resource
Africa has made significant strides over the past decade and economies across the region are growing steadily. Still, the majority of Africa's poor live and work in rural areas, mostly as smallholder farmers. To achieve the transformative economic growth that Africa needs to reduce poverty, it must support the development of a vibrant and prosperous agricultural sector.
In a region where far too many people still go hungry, Africa cannot increase food production at the speed and scale required without harnessing the productive potential of smallholder agriculture. Nearly 70 percent of these smallholder farmers are women, working on plots of two hectares or less.
These farmers face many challenges, including being acutely vulnerable to climate change – more so than farmers in any other region of the world. Their livelihoods and prospects for a better future are greatly influenced by, temperatures, the frequency, duration and severity of droughts, and water availability. Farmers and policy makers across Africa urgently need better data and risk management approaches to guide sustainable agricultural development and ensure healthy and resilient livelihoods and ecosystems.
Vital Signs is providing near real-time data and diagnostic tools to guide agricultural decisions in Africa and monitor their outcomes. It fills a critical unmet need for integrative measurements of agriculture, ecosystem services and human well-being and is creating a "gold standard" environmental monitoring system – a global public good.
Vital Signs was designed in Tanzania and demonstrated in Tanzania, Ghana and Rwanda with initial funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation. Vital Signs is creating a "gold standard" environmental monitoring system that is now poised to scale to ten countries in Sub-Saharan Africa in the next two years.
Vital Signs is led by Conservation International in partnership with the Earth Institute, Columbia University and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in South Africa.
Vital Signs implementation partners are the Tanzania Forest Conservation Group (TFCG), the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Ghana, the AfricaInnovations Institute (AfrII) in Uganda, and the Wildlife Conservation Society.