‘Virtual Kenya’ web platform launched today: User-friendly interactive maps for charting human and environmental health

Map of the Tana River Delta in Nature's Benefits in Kenya

Map of the the Upper Tana landforms and rivers published in Nature’s Benefits in Kenya Nature’s Benefits in Kenya: An Atlas of Ecosystems and Human Well-Being, published in 2007 by the World Resources Institute, the Department of Resource Surveys and Remote Sensing of the Kenya Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, the Central Bureau of Statistics of the Kenya Ministry of Planning and National Development, and ILRI.

For the last nine months, the World Resources Institute (USA) and Upande Ltd, a Nairobi company offering web mapping technology to the African market, have been working to develop what has been coined ‘Virtual Kenya,’ an online interactive platform with related materials for those with no access to the internet.  The content was developed by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the Kenya Department of Resource Surveys and Remote Sensing (DRSRS) and the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (previously the Central Bureau of Statistics). The Wildlife Clubs of Kenya and Jacaranda Designs Ltd developed offline educational materials. Technical support was provided by the Danish International Development Assistance (Danida) and the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida).

The Virtual Kenya platform was launched this morning at Nairobi’s ‘iHub’ (Innovation Hub), an open facility for the technology community focusing on young entrepreneurs and web and mobile phone programers, designers and researchers. Peter Kenneth, Kenya’s Minister of State for Planning, National Development and Vision 2030, was the guest of honour at the launch.

The minister remarked that:

Given that the government has facilitated the laying of fibre optic cabling across the country and is now in the process of establishing digital villages in all the constituencies, the Virtual Kenya initiative could not have come at a better time. I hope that it will accelerate the uptake of e-learning as an important tool in our school curriculum.

Virtual Kenya is designed to provide Kenyans with high-quality spatial data and cutting-edge mapping technology to further their educational and professional pursuits. The platform provides, in addition to online access to publicly available spatial datasets, interactive tools and learning resources for exploring these data.

Users both inside and outside of Kenya will be able to view, download, publish, share, and comment on various map-based products.

The ultimate goal of Virtual Kenya is to promote increased data sharing and spatial analysis for better decision-making, development planning and education in Kenya, while at the same time demonstrating the potential and use of web-based spatial planning tools.

The Atlas
At the moment, the Virtual Kenya platform features maps and information based on Nature’s Benefits in Kenya: An Atlas of Ecosystems and Human Well-Being, published jointly in 2007 by the World Resources Institute (USA), ILRI, DRSRS the National Bureau of Statistics. Publication of the Atlas was funded by Danida, ILRI, Irish Aid, the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sida and the United States Agency for International Development.

The Atlas overlays geo-referenced statistical information on human well-being with spatial data on ecosystems and their services to yield a picture of how land, people, and prosperity are related in Kenya.

By combining the Atlas’s maps and data on ecosystem services and human well-being, analysts can create new ecosystem development indicators, each of them capturing a certain relationship between resources and residents that can shed light on development in these regions. This approach can be used to analyze ecosystem-development relationships among communities within a certain distance of rivers, lakes and reservoirs; or the relations between high poverty areas and access to intensively managed cropland; or relations among physical infrastructure, poverty and major ecosystem services.

Decision-makers can use the maps to examine the spatial relationships among different ecosystem services to shed light on their possible trade-offs and synergies or to examine the spatial relationships between poverty and combinations of ecosystem services.

Virtual Kenya Platform
The Virtual Kenya platform is designed to allow users with more limited mapping expertise, specifically in high schools and universities, to take full advantage of the wealth of data behind the Atlas. The website also introduces more advanced users to new web-based software applications for visualizing and analyzing spatial information and makes public spatial data sets freely available on the web to support improved environment and development planning.

The Virtual Kenya website provides users with a platform to interactively view, explore, and download Atlas data in a variety of file formats and software applications, including Virtual Kenya Tours using Google Earth. In addition, GIS users in Kenya will—for the first time—have a dedicated online social networking community to share their work, comment and interact with each other on topics related to maps and other spatial data.

For those with limited mapping and GIS experience, Virtual Kenya will increase awareness of resources and tools available online to visualize and explore spatial information. For users and classrooms that do not have access to the Internet yet, other materials such as wall charts, student activity booklets, teachers guide, as well as the DVD with all the Virtual Kenya data and software will be available, giving them the opportunity to interact with tools available on the Virtual Kenya website.

Virtual Kenya email: info@virtualkenya.org

Virtual Kenya on the web:
Website: http://virtualkenya.org
Twitter: @virtualkenya
Facebook: VirtualKenya
YouTube: http://youtube.com/user/VirtualKenya

Read more about Nature’s Benefits in Kenya: An Atlas of Ecosystems and Human Well-Being, or download the Atlas, published by World Resources Institute, ILRI, Kenya Central Bureau of Statistics, and Kenya Department of Remote Surveys and Remote Sensing, 2007.

Editor’s note: The Kenya Department of Resource Surveys and Remote Sensing (DRSRS) was incorrectly named in the original version and corrected on 26 June 2011.

New program aims to spur state-of-the-art biosciences innovation to fight food insecurity, climate change and environmental degradation across eastern Africa

Bio-Innovate launch: Swedish Embassy's Bjorn Haggmark

Launched today at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the Bioresources Innovations Network for Eastern Africa Development (Bio-Innovate) program will support the fight against food insecurity in eastern Africa (photo credit: ILRI/MacMillan).

A new program that provides grants to bioscientists working to improve food production and environmental management in eastern Africa was launched today at the Nairobi headquarters of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

The newly established Bioresources Innovation Network for Eastern Africa Development (Bio-Innovate) Program—the first of its kind in Africa—provides competitive grants to African researchers who are working with the private sector and non-governmental organizations to find ways to improve food security, boost resilience to climate change and identify environmentally sustainable ways of producing food.

In its first three-year phase, the program is supporting five research-based projects working to improve the productivity of sorghum, millet, cassava, sweet potato, potato and bean farmers; to help smallholder farmers adapt to climate change; to improve the processing of wastes in the production of sisal and coffee; and to better treat waste water generated in leather processing and slaughterhouse operations.

In its second three-year phase, beginning mid-2011, Bio-Innovate will help build agricultural commodity ‘value chains’ in the region and a supportive policy environment for bioresource innovations.

The five-year program is funded by a USD12-million grant from the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida). Bio-Innovate is managed by ILRI and co-located within the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BeCA) Hub at ILRI’s Nairobi campus. Bio-Innovate will be implemented in Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

‘By emphasizing innovations to help drive crop production in the six partner countries, Bio-Innovate is working at the heart of one of the region’s greatest challenges—that of providing enough food in the face of climate change, diversifying crops and addressing productivity constraints that are threatening the livelihoods of millions,’ said Carlos Seré, ILRI’s director general.

An increasingly large number of poor people in the developing world are hungry, or, in development-speak, ‘food insecure.’ In sub-Saharan Africa, where agricultural production relies on rainfed smallholder farming, hunger, environmental degradation and climate change present a triple threat to individual, community and national development. In eastern Africa alone, over 100 million people depend on agriculture to meet their fundamental economic and nutritional needs.

Although some three-quarters of the African population are involved in farming or herding, investment in African agricultural production has continued to lag behind population growth rates for several decades, with the result that the continent has been unable to achieve sustainable economic and social development.

‘Bioresources research and use is key to pro-poor economic growth,’ says Seyoum Leta, Bio-Innovate’s program manager. ‘By focusing on improving the performance of crop agriculture and agro-processing, and by adding value to primary production, we can help build a more productive and sustainable regional bioresources-based economy.’

Bio-Innovate works closely with the African Union/New Partnership for Africa’s Development (AU/NEPAD) and its new Planning and Coordinating Agency, as well as with the councils and commissions for science and technology in eastern Africa, to encourage adoption of advances in biosciences. The program builds on AU/NEPAD’s Consolidated Plan of Action for Africa’s Science and Technology and the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP).

‘African governments are appreciating the importance of regional collaboration,’ says Ibrahim Mayaki, the chief executive officer of NEPAD. ‘Collaborations such as this, in science and technology, will enable the continent to adapt to the rapid advances and promises of modern biosciences.’

Bio-Innovate has already established partnerships with higher learning institutions and national agricultural research organizations, international agricultural research centres and private industries working both within and outside eastern Africa.

‘Bio-Innovate is an important platform for pooling eastern African expertise and facilities through a regional Bioresources Innovations Network,’ says Claes Kjellström, Bio-Innovate Sida representative at the Embassy of Sweden in Nairobi. ‘We believe this program will enable cross-sectoral and interdisciplinary biosciences research and enhance innovations and policies that will advance agricultural development in the region.’

The Bio-Innovate team is working with these partners to help guide development and adoption of homegrown bioscience policies in its partner countries and to spread knowledge of useful applications of bioscience. In the coming years, Bio-Innovate staff envision eastern Africa becoming a leading region in the use of biotechnology research and approaches for better food production and environmental management.

Some presentations from today’s launch:

More information about Bio-Innovate:
Short Blip TV clips

Three interviews of Seyoum Leta, Bio-Innovate program manager:

http://ilri.blip.tv/file/4882255/

http://ilri.blip.tv/file/4882101/

http://ilri.blip.tv/file/4881914/

Four interviews of Gabrielle Persley, senior advisor to ILRI’s director general:

http://ilri.blip.tv/file/4882211/

http://ilri.blip.tv/file/4882005/

http://ilri.blip.tv/file/4882481/

http://ilri.blip.tv/file/4882486/

Website:

http://bioinnovate-africa.org/

Pictures:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/ilri/sets/72157624891160295/

Swedish International Development Agency grants US$10.67 million to improve African bioscience


Virus greenhouse at the ILRI Addis

Bio-resources Innovations Network for Eastern Africa Development (Bio-Innovate) announce USD10.67 million grant from the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida).

The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) today announced a SEK80 million (USD10.67 million) grant from the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida) to support the set up of a multidisciplinary competitive funding mechanism for  biosciences and product-oriented innovation activities in eastern Africa (Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda).

The Bio-Innovate Program will focus on delivering new products through bioscience innovation systems involving a broad sector of actors, including scientists, the private sector, NGOs and other practitioners. The program will use modern bioscience to improve crop productivity and resilience to climate change in small-scale farming systems, and improve the efficiency of the agro-processing industry to add value to local bio-resources in a sustainable manner. Bio-Innovate will be user-, market- and development-oriented in order to make a difference on the ground in poverty alleviation and sustainable economic growth.

Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, Chief Executive Officer of the NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency, says: “African governments have recognized the importance of regional collaboration in science and technology to enable the continent to adapt the rapid advances and promises of modern biosciences. In 2005, under the auspices of the Africa Union (AU) and NEPAD, African countries designed and adopted Africa´s Science and Technology Consolidated Plan of Action (CPA). The plan puts emphasis on improving the quality of African science, technology and innovation through regional networking and developing more appropriate policies. Biotechnology and biosciences are prioritized areas in the plan, as has been demonstrated by the work of a high-level AU/NEPAD African Panel on Biotechnology, whose findings are in the publication Freedom to Innovate—Biotechnology in Africa´s Development.”

An Africa-based and Africa-led initiative, Bio-Innovate will draw upon existing expertise and resources from Africa, while forming connections with both African and global institutions to add value to Africa’s natural resources and develop sound policies for commercializing products from biosciences research.

Bio-Innovate builds on the achievements of the BIO-EARN program funded by Sida from 1999 to 2009 and has been developed by a team appointed by BIO-EARN governing board. “The program will benefit a lot from the facilities available at the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) Hub”, says Hassan Mshinda, Chair of the BIO-EARN Governing Board.

“We recognize the importance of the Bio-Innovate initiative to complement and strengthen the biosciences research in eastern and central Africa,” says Carlos Seré, Director General of ILRI. “We appreciate the support from Sida and are convinced that this innovative program will strengthen Africa’s capacity in using biotechnology for economic development.”

“Sida sees the Bio-Innovate Program as an important platform for pooling eastern African expertise through a regional bioscience innovation network, enabling cross-sectoral and interdisciplinary R&D and policy and sustainability analysis. The Bio-Innovate Program will be integrated into ongoing regional programs and structures and promote bioscience innovation in support of sustainable development in the region”, says Gity Behravan, Senior Research Advisor at Sida.

Notes:
New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD): The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) is a socioeconomic development program of the African Union (AU).  The objective of NEPAD is to stimulate Africa’s development by filling gaps in agriculture, health, education, infrastructure, science and technology. NEPAD explicitly recognizes that life sciences and biotechnology offer enormous potential for improving Africa’s development. Through NEPAD, African countries have committed themselves to establish networks of centres of excellence in biosciences. Four sub-regional networks have been established: the Southern African Network for Biosciences (SANBio), the Biosciences Eastern and Central Africa Network (BecANet), the West Africa Biosciences Network (WABNet) and the North Africa Biosciences Network (NABNet). A recent AU decision to integrate NEPAD into structures and processes of the AU gives the NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency (NPCA) the mandate to facilitate, coordinate and implement the NEPAD agenda.

International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI): The Africa-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) works at the crossroads of livestock and poverty, bringing high-quality science and capacity building to bear on poverty reduction and sustainable development. ILRI is one of 15 centres supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). It has its headquarters in Kenya and a principal campus in Ethiopia. It also has teams working out of offices in Nigeria, Mali, Mozambique, India, Thailand, Indonesia, Laos, Vietnam and China. ILRI hosts the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) Hub at the invitation of the African Union/New Partnership for Africa’s Development (AU/NEPAD), as part of the AU/NEPAD’s Africa Biosciences Initiative. The BecA Hub is part of a shared research platform on the ILRI campus in Nairobi. The BecA Hub has been established over the past two years, with strong support from the Government of Canada, through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), and ILRI. For more information, please visit our website: www.ilri.org

Kenya Government follows up the ILRI-Kenya poverty mapping book Volume I with Volume II, launched this week in Nairobi

Analysis of the distribution of welfare through poverty maps has become an important tool for designing poverty interventions in Kenya. In 2003, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in collaboration with Kenya’s Central Bureau of Statistics and other partners, launched the first comprehensive map-based view of poverty in Kenya (Volume1). Building on investments made by the Kenya Government in census, household surveys and geographic information, ILRI provided leadership and technical assistance in developing these poverty maps. The maps and figures in Volume I have been used by development partners and local governments to target and allocate resources in a pro-poor manner. New estimates of poverty and inequality at the constituency level—Geographic Dimensions of Well-being in Kenya: Who and Where are the Poor? A Constituency Level Profile. Volume II—were launched this week, 1 November 2005, in Nairobi.

This report, which was prepared by Kenya’s Central Bureau of Statistics in collaboration with the World Bank, Swedish International Development Agency and Society for International Development, applies a similar methodology to that used in Volume 1 to compute poverty and inequality for urban, rural and key socio-economic groups based on constituency-level data. The report also highlights how the results can be used for critical policy interventions, more specifically the Constituency Development Fund.

Details about this new volume can be obtained from the website of the Central Bureau of Statistics: www.cbs.go.ke

Click for news clippings about the book.

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