Open data’s contribution to better research for development: The example of RTBMaps

20 October, 2014 by (comments)

rtbmapsRTBMaps is a flagship online atlas developed by the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) that provides all sorts of geographic information on RTB crops worldwide for the benefit of the research and development community.

RTBMaps aggregates individual maps provided by researchers and scientists around the world through “scientific crowdsourcing”, hence compiling a wealth of critical variables onto a unique world map. The atlas currently counts 32 different overlays of variables ranging from RTB crop distribution, soil constraints, susceptibility to pests and diseases, and socio-economic data such as vulnerability to failed harvests, the incidence of malnutrition in children and others. Participating researchers are also expected to share information on variety evaluations done in their regions.

Open GIS data for better science

In 2013, RTBMaps received a Special Achievement in GIS award at the Esri International User Conference in recognition of its outstanding work with GIS technology, and the ComputerWorld 2014 Data+ Editors’ Choice Award last September for its innovative use of big data analytics for informed decision making.

Building on these achievements the initiative is now making all the data sets openly accessible. In line with CGIAR Open Access and Data Management Policy and CIAT’s Intellectual Assets Policy, the current 32 GIS map layers are available on CIAT and other partners’ websites for download and use in GIS software for advanced analysis.

RTBMaps’ datasets replications originating from CIAT in particular are available on Dataverse – an open source application hosted by Harvard University to publish, share, reference, extract and analyse research data – including:

Open GIS data allows for in-depth analysis and potential applications are countless. CIAT is for instance using available data to combine the mealybug susceptibility map with the cassava production map in order to estimate (ex-ante) the savings that its biological control program, currently under development in Asia, could bring to farmers.

A tool to set research and development priorities

Other applications are brought by a particularly useful, built-in, multi-criteria decision and analysis tool.

Using a weighted overlay methodology, the tool allows users to select a set of variables stored as map layers and to associate a specific weight to each of them depending on desired research and development interventions. The system then generates a map showing areas that meet the criteria and are best suited for interventions.


Identifying gaps in collections of RTB wild relatives

Another important application pertains to the biodiversity layer, which shows the global distribution of crop wild relatives of RTB crops.

Crop wild relatives contain a wealth of important traits for disease resistance and yield improvement, and may provide critical contributions to breeding. However, climate change, habitat modification, the modernization of agricultural areas, and invasive species, among other factors, present a serious threat to crop wild relatives’ populations.

The biodiversity layer brings forth the regions where gaps exist in genebank collections, and helps identifying hotspots where we should focus our efforts to conserve valuable germplasm.
Open Data offers great prospects for research and international development. It makes essential information accessible to the international community, and enhances potential impacts related to its use, sometimes in rather unexpected ways. CIAT is committed to make our research outputs Open Access. To know more about Open Access at CIAT, visit our Intellectual Assets section.

RTBMaps is the result of the collaboration between GIS specialists from CIAT, the International Potato Center (CIP), the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and Bioversity International. For more information on the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB), visit

Related links:

Tagged With: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Filed Under: Cassava @en, Crop diversity