Expert Consultation Meeting on GIS Applications in Agricultural Development in WANA Region in Amman-Jordan, 7-8 June 2011

At the 2007 ICM4ARD Workshop for West Asia and North Africa (WANA), organized by AARINENA, application of Geographical Information System (GIS) and effective use of spatial data were given high priority of attention in the region. This need was again highlighted in the Regional Review at Cairo in 2009 and at the AARINENA Retreat organized in Aleppo in 2010. AARINENA, therefore, organized an Expert Consultation Meeting on GIS applications in agricultural development in the WANA Region with the support of GFAR in Amman-Jordan from 7-8 June 2011.

The objectives of the Expert Consultation were to:

1. Take stock of GIS application and implementation for agricultural development in the WANA Region;
2. Consider the potential of GIS applications for agricultural development in the WANA Region;
3. Discuss research needs to support the potential of GIS applications for agricultural development in the WANA region;
4. Discuss developing a program for research and capacity building for GIS use for agricultural development in the WANA Region; and
5. Discuss what AARINENA, GFAR and ICARDA can do to support the proposed program/plan for research and capacity building for GIS in the WANA region.

The Expert Consultation reviewed presentations from ICARDA and the sub-regions of Arabia Peninsula (Oman) Maghreb (Tunisia) Nile–Valley and Red Sea (Egypt), Mashreq (Jordan). A presentation on Integrated GIS systems was presented by PROGIS, a private sector participant. There were several key issues that emerged during the consultation. The overarching issue was that in spite of the huge potential of GIS as a research and development tool to support agricultural development and sustainably manage natural resources and the environment, the region has yet to capitalize on this potential. While there is substantial capacity in the region, it is disbursed without enough effective direction to make an impact. The focus of GIS use was largely in developing soil maps, water management and land use planning with some application in natural resources management, biodiversity, agricultural policy support, and the management of plant and animal pests and disease. There were several organization related issues including those of lack of funding; inadequate capacity and experience in new areas of space and spatial technologies; access to data and coordination as well as sharing of information on GIS related applications at national, sub-regional and regional level. Most work was at the project level in universities and research institutes.

It was realised that GIS application in the region needs to contribute to established agricultural development and associated research priorities of the region as indicated in the regional review of 2009. These research priorities include:

• Improving food security and agricultural productivity;
• Natural resources management including soil, water and agro-biodiversity;
• Livestock, Rangelands and Fisheries production improvement;
• Market and Value Chain development;
• Climate Change adaptation and mitigation;
• Poverty and Socio-economic policy; and
• Extension, Advisory Services and scaling up of technology use.

There was also a realization that instead of disparate actions and research programs that were small in scope and spread out, a holistic integrated approach was required at the sub-regional and regional level in order to make effective use of spatial information in agriculture and environment in the region.

The participants felt that there was a need for some large scale collaborative projects to not only demonstrate how holistic integrated spatial systems can contribute to development and research objectives of the region but also build capacity and collaboration across the region in this area. They considered that water as a commodity and watershed as a tangible area of attention in spatial management is a high priority for agricultural development in the region and that this should be a focus of a development and research activity in the region. 

Expert Consultation Participants
The participants identified 3 components that needed attention. These were:

1. The use of high resolution common maps;
2. Sharing and exchange of data and information for spatial application among littoral states and their development and research institutes; and
3. Development of appropriate models to make effective use of spatial data for development and research.

The participants were of the opinion that the technological issues related to the effective use of spatial data for agricultural development and research were solvable. They wanted support for managing organizational issues including those related to policy, strategy and structures in making common investments, capacity building and data and information sharing. They also wanted to look into how the agricultural communities can support, through use of new ICTs and participatory approaches, the management and effective use of data.

It was decided to develop a concept paper on using spatial information for water management to effectively benefit small holder farmers of the region with lead taken by AARINENA and ICARDA and supported by GFAR and PROGIS. This concept paper will form the basis of discussion with investors and donors in the region for the development and research program.

Contributed by AARINENA