“Investments in agriculture—particularly smallholder farmer are the best weapons against hunger and poverty, and they have made life better for billions of people in African and across the globe.”

Bill Gates, Chairman, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation


The Importance of Nature

Creating an innovative system to monitor the effects of agricultural productivity on small farmers and protect the environment —began as a conversation with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Three-quarters of the world’s poorest people get their food and income by farming small plots of land—patches of land no bigger than a football field. The Gates Foundation focuses on improving the quality of life for 120 million small- holder farmers in Africa and South Asia by helping them grow more food and earn more income. 

The Foundation’s agricultural development program has focused on improving the well-being of smallholder farmers by providing improved seeds, better technology and, access to markets – helping them get their crops sold.

With the growing pressure from climate change and other risk factors, the Foundation realized that it needed to focus on the essential role that nature plays in ensuring smallholder farmer success. Without sufficient water, without healthy soils, without pollinators farmers cannot thrive and agricultural productivity cannot be sustained.

So we began working with the Foundation to redefine progress and success in agriculture (and conservation) using data in new ways that could greatly improve how decisions are made and risks are assessed.

We set out to prove that just like doctors measure human ‘vital signs’—such as blood pressure and temperature to determine whether we are healthy—that there are standard measures we need to monitor at every level including farm, village, landscape, and at the scale of a nation, continent and globe—to know whether farming systems, ecosystems, and human systems are healthy and sustainable. 

We were certain that having a set of consistent, standardized data measurement could fundamentally change development decision-making for the good of everyone.

The Gates Foundation believed in our vision.  We are deeply grateful for their guidance and for the initial grant to Conservation International that launched Vital Signs in Africa.

We are demonstrating that with the right measurements at the right scales, it is possible to redefine success. African governments are beginning to use Vital Signs to plan and monitor national development strategies. And, the Gates Foundation’s agricultural development strategy now addresses sustainability with the need to “preserve natural resources for future generations.

Vital Signs is up and running in four African countries – Ghana, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda.