CABI has been awarded a $1.07 million contract from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to lead a comprehensive study of national Soil Information Systems (SIS) in several countries including India, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Tanzania also capturing learning from the USA, UK, countries within the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, and Bangladesh.

The review, which will involve appraising global initiatives such as the World Soil Information Service (WoSIS) soil profile database and the Global Soil Information System (GLOSIS), will support improved evidence-based intervention design for SIS systems co-created with the global soil data community.

The investment from the foundation supports its 3 to 5-year goal on soil health and agronomy that will see integrated SISs established in a number of countries in Africa and Indian States.

It is also in line with the foundation’s goal of assessing opportunities for mainstreaming spectral soil analysis in support of national soil information service initiatives in AGRA countries via the FAO’s Global Soil Laboratory Network (GLOSOLAN) initiative.

CABI will perform a review of SISs, identifying what intervention approaches have worked, which have not, which new solutions work best and where there is opportunity to take innovation to scale. This information can then help direct improved SIS intervention design and strengthen impact.

The work will build upon CABI’s expertise and previous work in the field whereby, since 2018, it has worked with the foundation on several SIS investments in Africa and South Asia – supporting grantees to overcome specific data sharing challenges.

Throughout this work, CABI determined several core constraints to data utility that are common across SIS interventions: data quality; data standards; data security and privacy; data sharing and access; governance; data literacy; trust and benefits; policy; resourcing; and technical infrastructure.

Improved understanding of these core constraints will help stakeholders better consider systems perspectives, highlighting the role of the enabling environment and political economy, and the role of people and processes as well as technology in the development of a successful SIS.

Martin Parr, CABI’s Director of Data Policy and Practice, said, “The results of the research will help us to appreciate how national contexts, and decisions that were made during their development, affected the success of the various SIS interventions.

Ruthie Musker, CABI programme manager said, “We aim to learn how different practices have led to the current state of SIS. We want to understand especially where SIS have or are starting to move beyond being data repositories to becoming truly actionable systems. We’ll be looking to understand how soils information does or does not inform national policies, strategic planning, agronomic management, input supply, etc.”

The project intends to conduct extensive research into the history of global SISs, the technologies (from simple to state-of-the-art) and to document case studies to learn about approaches that have worked and those that have not.

In selected countries, the project will further investigate existing capacities, data, legal and political contexts to determine pathways to solutions for possible soil system interventions.

Back in 2019, CABI was awarded a $1.49 million grant to help the foundation increase food security in India and Ethiopia through better access to data on soil health, agronomy and fertilizers.

The earlier grant was driven by a joint donor statement made by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) on the role that donor organizations should play in good data management in agricultural programmes.

Additional information

Main image: Better soil management is important for smallholder farmers if they are to grow healthy and profitable crops (Credit: Pixabay).