RTBMaps: more than just eye candy for scientists

15 July, 2013 by (comments)

If you ever needed proof of the power of visual data, try this:

Visit the RTBMaps website. You’ll arrive at a big world map. Click on the “Biotic” button, and select “cassava mealybug.” Then hold onto your seat.

RTB maps rotator

That little exercise did more to hammer home the potential vulnerability of cassava to this formidable pest than any peer-reviewed study I’ve read. And that’s just the start of what RTBMaps is capable of.

RTB Maos is the result of work from a CIAT-led project involving the International Potato Centre (CIP), the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and Bioversity International, as part of CGIAR’s Roots, Tubers and Bananas research program. The aim was to build a platform for easy priority setting, to help ensure the programme has the greatest possible impact on production of cassava, yam, potato, sweet potato, banana and plantain.

The team recently fought off competition from around 100,000 hopefuls to secure the Special Achievement in GIS award, endearingly known as SAG.

RTBMaps lets you overlay 25 sets of variables onto a world map. These range from pest and diseases of root and tuber crops, evapotranspiration rates, vulnerability to failed harvests, fertiliser application rates to the incidence of malnutrition in children. The data is based on peer-reviewed research, which is linked to in the maps themselves. Multiple additional layers will be added over time.

But even now, the amount of data behind the maps is dizzying: climate information from 10,000 weather stations, crop distribution maps from 25,000 administrative districts, and thousands of data points for pests and diseases. These enable researchers to burrow beneath the blanket national-level statistics in order to pinpoint specific areas for intervention. But that’s not all:

“What’s also really cool is that you have all the layers available on the cloud, for anyone to access, free-of-charge,” said CIAT’s Glenn Hyman. “To use the maps and run your own analysis, all anyone needs is a web browser. From the point of view of research centres with the CGIAR, RTBMaps brings GIS capability out of the laboratory and directly onto the desks of scientists.”

RTBMaps will be of particular interest for scientists and policymakers attending this week’s Africa Agriculture Science Week in Ghana, enabling them to assess the vulnerability of some of the continent’s most important food crops and set the right priorities for protecting and boosting production.

For the latest on the event, follow the AASW Blog and Twitter feed #AASW6.

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Filed Under: Africa @en, Asia @en, Cassava @en, Latin America and the Caribbean