The University of Ghana has established a Web-based platform that guarantees access to spatial data and agro-related information to prospective investors in Ghana’s agricultural sector
Screenshot of Ghana agriculture online GIS platform
Agriculture plays a key role in the economies of most African countries, serving as a critical factor in efforts to combat poverty and food insecurity. However, agriculture in Africa is characterised by low productivity and plagued by major environmental constraints, with per-hectare yields for most crops among the lowest in the world. The old model of agriculture prevelant in Africa is not sustainable in the long term, as production systems lag behind burgeoning urban development. Geo-enabled agriculture which refers to the utilisation of spatial data to facilitate evidence-based decisions in farming systems to promote agriculture development, hold enormous potential for the development of a new model for Africa’s agricultural growth agenda.
Geospatial technologies hold the key to fast tracking of the collection, harmonisation, packaging and dissemination of agri-related datasets to guide farmers and farm-related enterprises in determining high efficiency and increased returns on agriculture investments in a sustainable manner. While geospatial tools have been successfully used for natural resources, and environmental management, actual use of the technology in the agriculture sectors is slowly gaining ground in Africa. The Centre for Remote Sensing and Geographic Information Services (CERSGIS), University of Ghana, is endeavouring to fill the spatial data gap in Ghana’s agriculture sector by providing a Webbased platform that guarantees access to spatial data and agro-related information by prospective investors, thus contributing to the overall goal of agricultural transformation.
GIS platform for Ghana
CERSGIS in collaboration with USAID-ADVANCE has set up an online GIS platform for agricultural development in Ghana, as part of the open data initiative being championed globally to make data freely available to support various activities for accelerated development. The goal of this initiative is to help fill the gap in Ghana’s agriculture industry and contribute to the overall goal of agricultural transformation. It is envisaged that this would serve as a good source of baseline information for agri-related interventions in Ghana. The platform is a spatial data portal serving as a repository for all agri-related datasets. It provides some GIS functionality for basic spatial analyses. This approach provides access to data as well as tools for interacting with the data and map products.
Data collection and dissemination
Most of the datasets hosted on the platform have been collected by CERSGIS and the ADVANCE project. Besides the thematic data layers, such as soil, topography, road network, water bodies etc., which have been harmonised and referenced to a common coordinate system, GPS mapping exercises are conducted regularly to collect data on farm boundaries, post harvest facilities, irrigation facilities, mechanisation centres, markets etc. Interested stakeholders are being encouraged to contribute datasets to the platform for open access.
Map of agriculture intervention projects in Ghana
Datasets can be downloaded from the platform in various formats. Stakeholder- defined outputs in the form of composed maps are also posted for downloads. The application development team is also soliciting feedback from stakeholders to develop value- added products and services.
Implementation of the platform involved GIS Web developers and GIS data analyst as well as graphic designers. CERSGIS is currently managing the Web platform in collaboration with the Ministry of Food and Agriculture. Google APIs came in handy, as well as free tools such as MySQL were used for the development. ArcGIS Online cloud solution has been acquired for the mapping component and GIS capability on the platform.
Institutional collaboration and opportunities
Given the enthusiasm generated by the GIS-platform, interested parties and key stakeholders have participated in sensitising workshops organised by CERSGIS, and pledged their support to contribute data to the platform. The GIS-platform also presents a number of opportunities for sharing data and information for development; engendering local capacity development to host, manage and serve comprehensive agriculture datasets for effective decision making; serve as a launch pad for building the capacity of stakeholder institutions to access and utilise spatial datasets for resource and land use planning, monitoring and evaluation. The platform could also be extended to provide knowledge contents for extension services within the sector.
Dearth of data and information to facilitate agriculture development in developing countries is one of the reasons why countries in sub-Sahara Africa have undeveloped agro systems. Geospatial technologies and tools could be cost-effectively deployed to collect, store, manage, analyse, map and used as decision support by project implementers and policy makers to evaluate and monitor resource allocation, support land use planning, enhance land suitability assessment to optimise crop yield, and facilitate the development of what may be termed an agriculture cadastre for transforming subsistence agriculture into a viable venture for majority of the population that are engaged in the sector.