Taking Vital Sign’s temperature

It completely escaped our notice that a project called Vital Signs was launched a few months ago in Africa with a $10 million, 3-year grant from the Gates Foundation. The grantees are Conservation International, The Earth Institute and South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, and the idea is as follows:

The Vital Signs Africa 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.

Very worthy, and right up our alley here at the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog, which makes it all the more galling that we didn’t pick up on it earlier. Anyway, some preliminary results for one area in Tanzania (the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania, or SAGCOT) were presented at the recent AGRA Forum in Arusha, which is how we got to hear about it now.

The question, of course, is whether agricultural biodiversity is being monitored, along with such things as population density, household income, value of biodiversity and fuelwood availability, which are among the data categories that were discussed in Arusha. That “value of biodiversity” does sound promising, but then you read only that “through park entry fees, photography permits and other sources of income, this value is estimated to be more than US$ 650 million per year in the SAGCOT.”

The project’s website is not much help, as it has little beyond some admittedly very nice photographs. But I guess it’s early days yet. I have contacted the people concerned and hopefully I’ll be able to report back very soon.

It is interesting that the Gates Foundation is using Vital Signs as an example of its interest in, and commitment to, agroecological approaches to agricultural development, though whether the project qualifies is disputed.

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