Agriculture presents a trilemma. On the one hand, increased food production per capita over the last few decades has lifted millions of people out of starvation. On the other hand, agriculture is a major driver of global environmental change. Balancing the tradeoffs between the need to increase agricultural production (for both food and fuel) while minimizing its environmental impacts is a major challenge of the 21st century. Furthermore, the recent global commodity crisis underscored the vulnerability of the global food system to shocks from extreme weather events, energy markets, and obstruction of the smooth functioning of commodity markets via export bans and other measures designed to force instability onto global markets. We have learned that a “perfect storm” in which all these factors coincide can have a devastating impact on the world’s poor. As we look ahead several decades, will such commodity price spikes become more commonplace in the future? What investments and policies need to be put in place to mitigate the frequency, intensity and/or impacts of such events? In order to answer these questions, improved data base infrastructure is needed in order to support state-of-the-art, spatially explicit modeling of land use, agricultural production, land cover change, and greenhouse gas emissions from these activities.

The Proposal

After reviewing the current state of the art in spatially explicit, global data base infrastructure for the analysis of agriculture, land use and the environment, we propose new infrastructure to support researchers working in this area, which we call GEOSHARE for Geospatial Open Source Hosting of Agriculture, Resource & Environmental Data . The proposed effort would do three things:

  • gather national and sub national statistics from various statistical agencies around the world to put together a consistent global data set, along with regional companion data sets, on agriculture and land use;
  • employ spatial disaggregation methods, including the use of satellite remote sensing technology and spatial statistics to develop geographically-explicit gridded data on a global scale; and
  • develop a data portal, including new tools for providing data in a variety of convenient formats to the global research community. Distinguishing features of this effort will be its focus on transparency, documentation and peer-review, quality control and sustainability over time. The majority of such previous efforts have only focused on the data portal element – they rely on other researchers to provide them the data. By integrating data collection, development, and provision into one project, we will be able to support the global research community as it seeks to understand the long-run sustainability of the global agricultural system.


The Workshop

This workshop will kickoff the GEOSHARE pilot project (Download PPT presentation). Details about the project are outlined in "A Global, Spatially-Explicit, Open-Source Data Base for Analysis of Agriculture, Land Use and the Environment," a proposal that was drafted by a team of authors led by Tom Hertel with funding from the Foresight Programme of the UK Secretary of State for Business, Innovation, and Skills (download the full proposal). The objectives of the May workshop are to

  • provide a venue for exchange of information among leading researchers about what data are currently available (or attainable in the near term) and which pressing research and policy questions can be addressed with the data flowing out of this type of global spatial data base infrastructure,
  • discuss issues of institutional design and the long-run sustainability of a shared, global, spatial database architecture, and
  • define the broad technical and operational details of the GEOSHARE project.