By Everline Ndenga
Repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to affect monitoring and assessment activities for food security projects. Ongoing discussions among monitoring and evaluation practitioners outline how evaluation needs to adapt to the changing situation. For agriculture-based projects, the focus in recent years has shifted to utilizing remote sensing and satellite-based tools to track progress. These tools provide near real time and free or open source data, a variety of spatial resolutions and global coverage. Most of these are easy to use and come with instructional manuals, and documented methodology backed by peer-reviewed literature.
In the case of the Resilient Food System Program, various tools and methods are available to access data and assess the trends in terms of land productivity, soil nutrients, weather patterns and ecosystems services. These include Trends.Earth, the Land Degradation Surveillance Framework (LDSF), Collect Earth, EX ACT among others.
Conservation International has developed Trends.Earth, the Resilience Atlas and Vital Signs Protocols that come in handy for monitoring and assessment in such situations. Trends.Earth assesses Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 15.3.1 – a composite indicator reflecting the proportion of land area degraded over total land area. It also measures separately the sub indicators of land cover, land productivity and soil organic carbon, as a proxy for carbon stocks. Users may select to compute national or sub national level data, or smaller geographical scope. They may also load their own data onto the platform to compute the land degradation indicators.
The Resilience Atlas contains information necessary for understanding and predicting food security and resilience within the project sites. This includes information on production systems, land productivity, climate trends and land degradation. One can visualize and overlay various indicators to assess current and future food production and resilience conditions.
It is acknowledged that data collected by satellite and remote sensing may not capture the granularity needed for evidence-based decisions especially pertaining to sudden population changes, conflict and ecosystem destabilization. The Vital Signs Rapid Roadside Assessments Protocol comes in handy in cases where minimal travel can be afforded. This protocol provides guidelines to capture key qualitative and semiquantitative data biophysical data, supported by photographs, for a large number of sites across the landscape in a quick, efficient manner.
A report by the UN Global Pulse (2016) calls for integrating big data into monitoring and development of development programs. A conceptual framework developed for the RFS Program lists some global datasets that provide potentially useful information to this end. These include European Space Agency Climate Change Initiative (CCI), FAO WaPOR to assess above ground biomass production, Climate Hazards Group InfraRed Precipitation with Station data (CHIRPS) to assess precipitation, IPCC Climate Zones, and IPCC GPG-LULUCF to assess carbon emissions due to deforestation, Famine Early Warning System (FEWSnet) for famine early warning and Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) and Living Standards Measurement Study (LSMS) for information on population health and nutrition.
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