Geospatial information for sustainable food systems

Enhanced global land and water resources assessment for sustainable agriculture in a high-performing on-demand computing environment

On 27 June 2023, the hybrid event "Enhanced global land and water resources assessment for sustainable agriculture in a high-performing on-demand computing environment" was jointly organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Mississippi State University (MSU). The primary objective of the event was to showcase and emphasize the technical collaboration between FAO and MSU on land and water, and to also acknowledge the collaborative efforts with the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and Asian Institute of Technology (AIT). 

The event was opened by introductory speeches by FAO Deputy Director-General, Ms Maria Helena Semedo, and Dr. Mark Everett Keenum, President, Mississippi State University (MSU), who both highlighted the growing need to provide updated and timely global and national information on available resources for food security and as the collaboration with MSU is a valuable opportunity to achieve substantial progress in enhancing the data calculation process through increased computer capacity.

During the event, 50 participants joined online and 23 individuals attended physically, representing various sectors including private and public land use planners, extension services, researchers, GIS and Remote Sensing experts, among others.

The first session of the event focused on “Exploring frontiers in data sciences for innovative land and water resources assessment: big data and computing” with interventions from Matieu Henry, a.i. Head Geospatial Unit Land and Water Division (NSL, FAO) and Mimmo Parisi, Senior Advisor of European and Data Science Development (MSU). They both emphasized the importance of science-based methodologies and highlighted the collaborative efforts between their organizations. The speakers acknowledged the importance of how data science, AI, and high-performance computing can contribute to finding effective solutions. They also emphasized the need for efficiency, scalability, flexibility, and speed in delivering programs and policies to address hunger and poverty.

The second session gave a better overview of the collaboration on land evaluation, crop mapping, suitability and agro-ecological zoning between FAO, MSU, IIASA and AIT. The panelists presented their collaborative efforts and the ongoing work on Global Agro-Ecological Zoning (GAEZ) and PyAEZ (Python Agro-Ecological Zoning package), emphasizing the potential of shared high-performance computing infrastructure and the development of GAEZ v5.

The event was closed by Mr Lifeng Li, Director of Land and Water Division (NSL, FAO) and David Shaw, Executive Vice President and Provost (MSU), who expressed great enthusiasm about the progress made through the partnership, emphasizing the need for computational resources to effectively combine data and expertise, facilitating timely decision-making rather than delayed actions. Mr. Li also highlighted the new SoLaWISe initiative which aims to develop a comprehensive information system at the crop level, integrating soil, land, and water information. The information system was expected to provide high-resolution data tailored to the specific needs of different crops. Mr. Li stressed that the establishment of this information system would greatly benefit stakeholders, by offering high-resolution information on land and water, the system would enable farmers and designers to make informed decisions. It would contribute to achieving the shared objective of enhancing food security and sustainability.