2014 Data+ Editors' Choice Awards

CGIAR

A maps application, developed with scientific crowdsourcing, identifies priority areas for crops.

Many people in the developing world struggle with hunger, food insecurity, poverty and threats to their livelihoods.

In response, the Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research, an organization that coordinates agricultural research internationally, set up the Roots, Tubers and Bananas for Food Security and Income program, which identifies endangered areas and highlights opportunities for improving agricultural conditions.

A tool that supports the RTB initiative is an application called RTB Maps that aggregates individual maps that show crop distribution, desolate areas, pest and disease locations, and socio-economic data. Scientists access the system online and can choose to overlay the specific maps that satisfy their research criteria. RTB Maps was built with ArcGIS server technology from Esri, a vendor of geographic information systems.

The RTB initiative is "crowdsourcing scientific thought" by eliciting input from four primary international agricultural research groups and other scientists and agronomists, says Susana Crespo, an agriculture specialist at Esri.

Glenn Hyman, senior researcher at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture in Cali, Colombia, says, "Research centers [like ours] are going through our own literature to find all the data applications and knowledge that have a geographic dimension. [The RTB initiative] is a very useful way for them to share their work and look at patterns beyond their narrow interests."

For example, Hyman says scientists at his center are researching ways to prevent the spread of crop-damaging mealybugs. Using RTB Maps, the researchers combined a map showing the high suitability for the mealybug with another map of the current distribution of cassava production in Asia, highlighting areas where prevention measures need to be taken.

The application also pulls in information from social media, including videos, tweets and posts, to enrich scientists' understanding about crops.

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