Strengthening capacities, knowledge, and data sharing platforms for sustainable development

Project leads: Matt Cooper, data manager, Vital Signs and Tabby Njunge, technical operations manager, Vital Signs

Data scientist leads: Anthony Arendt (primary) and Joe Hellerstein (secondary)

DSSG fellows: Cara Arizmendi, Mitchell Goist, Krista Jones, Robert Shaffer

Project Summary: To meet the food security and nutrition challenges of today — with nearly one billion chronically hungry people worldwide — and tomorrow will require an estimated 70 – 100% increase in food production. Millions of small-holder farmers will need to play an important role in meeting this need, particularly across Africa. Unfortunately, agricultural activities are degrading ecosystems and the benefits they provide for people faster now than ever before. We need to find new ways of growing food that can simultaneously deliver food security, environmental sustainability, and economic opportunity. There is an urgent need for better data and risk management approaches to guide sustainable agricultural development and ensure healthy and resilient ecosystems and livelihoods. Vital Signs aims to meet this need for informed policy by providing better data and risk management tools to optimize agricultural development decisions for the needs of the human beings they serve and the ecosystems upon which they depend. Headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, Vital Signs has worked in Kenya, Ghana, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda.

Vital Signs collects data on the ground using a peer-reviewed monitoring system, integrates data from national governments and third-party data sources, and builds online platforms for data exploration and decision support. This monitoring system collects data on agricultural practices and yields, the environment and biodiversity, land cover, soil health and human well-being, in several 10 x 10 km landscapes in each country. This data is analyzed to show spatial and temporal trends, as well as to create multivariate models. Vital Signs does all of this in close collaboration with national and multinational stakeholders and policymakers. The data is visualized on platforms like, and is freely available for download on the Vital Signs website, as it is intended to be a global public good and a resource for any interested party.

Project Outcomes: The team utilized data focusing on female-headed households’ access to productive resources and ecosystem services; how natural resources supplement household expenditures on food; how benefits from agricultural intensification relate to household income, level of education and gender; and access and use of extension services.

The following blogs were posted to the Vital Signs website:

Vital Signs Selected to Participate in 2017 Data Science for Social Good Program

How Natural Resources Supplement Household Expenditure on Food-Results From 12 Landscapes in Uganda and Ghana

The Impact of Agricultural commercialization on Household Nutrition and Food Security: Results from 489 households in Uganda, Rwanda,Tanzania and Ghana

Are the effects of extension services on crop productivity moderated by farmer’s education attainment? Results from 25 Landscapes in Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Ghana

Are benefits from agricultural intensification related to household income, level of education, and gender? – results from 758 households in Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Ghana

View the Final Presentation.