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An interactive online platform to explore scenarios for agricultural growth to achieve food security under climate change



Today, the world faces a great challenge to satisfy the global need for water and food. By 2050, the world will need to increase the agricultural production by 60-110% to meet the increasing demand (Ray et al., 2013).

Climate change is believed to diminish our ability to provide more of water and food services. This means that, in the future, the world needs to produce more food but with less available resources. To face this challenge, three options are available to satisfy the future food demand: (1) Expanding the cropland (Horizontal growth); (2) agricultural intensification in the existing farmlands (Vertical growth) and (3) changing diet pattern. A gap between the attainable yield and the farmer’s actual yield for many important food crops exists in many areas around the world, especially in the developing countries. A “sustainable intensification” approach is very crucial to ensure increasing food production while maintaining sustainability of natural resources.

Source: MTT

A potential solution to feed the world in the future lies within the possibility of bridging the yield gap. This gap is considered as a “hidden resource”, where more food could be produced from the same land area and perhaps by using the same amount of water. Moreover, this pathway is potential to save the natural vegetation ecosystems which are essential for climate change mitigation. HoVi (Horizontal or Vertical) Engine is an online platform utilises public-domain datasets to investigate the impacts of the vertical and horizontal development options in the agricultural sector. It offers a chance for public, researchers, and policy makers to explore scenarios for agricultural growth to achieve food security under climate change on a country scale. HoVi Engine will enhance our understanding of the available resources and will portrait the consequences of different development pathways on water, food, land, and climate. The outcomes of the platform will be very useful for decision making.   

Is this proposal for a practice or a project?


What actions do you propose?

HoVi Engine aims to offer an opportunity for anyone to explore the impact of different scenarios for agricultural development on water and food security and CO2 emissions on a country scale. Hence, the following guidelines should be taken into consideration (1) HoVi should be easily and freely accessible by anyone; and (2) Scenario development should rely on open source datasets to ensure transparency.

We propose the following actions to develop the HoVi Engine

1. Using public-domain data: A large body of public-domain datasets, coming from ground data, models and remote sensing is available online. These datasets cover a wide range of variables, for instance, rainfall, crop yield, land cover, and vegetation productivity. Using these datasets, several variables and indicators, like crop yield gap, cultivated and forest land areas, carbon use efficiency and water use efficiency, could be calculated. Public-domain data is believed to provide a transparent and reproducible approach which overcomes the problem of data scarcity in many regions around the world. Many of these datasets are available with good temporal and spatial coverage, which would be very useful to study the spatial and temporal variation in the synergies and tradeoffs generated from each agricultural development pathway.


2. Numerical outputs: Following a quantitative approach is quite needed for this assessment. Producing knowledge regarding the different land cover types, their spatial and temporal variation, the intensity degree of crop yield gap, and the available water resources will facilitate discovering the synergies and tradeoffs between the two development pathways, and hence offers quantitative data for the decision makers.

3. Create an interactive online tool to visualise the impacts on food security and climate change of different scenarios of extensification (horizontal development) and intensification (vertical development) in the agricultural sector and the impact of each scenario on water and food security as well as on land use and CO2 emissions. 

Proposed layout for the HoVi Engine online platform 

Who will take these actions?

This platform will be launched by young researchers active in the field of natural resources management. The impact of this platform is of high interest of several parties such as researchers, local people and decision makers. The high positive impact of such a tool is believed to attract the attention of governmental authorities, Non-governmental organisations as well as international organisations focusing on development and sustainability of natural resources. 


Where will these actions be taken?

Analysis will take place globally on a country scale. HoVi Engine will provide an interactive access to the scenarios and the results on the world map.  


In addition, specify the country or countries where these actions will be taken.

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Country 2

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Country 3

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Country 4

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Country 5

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What impact will these actions have on greenhouse gas emissions and/or adapting to climate change?

Vegetation ecosystem act as natural sinks for the atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). According to the UNFCCC, forest vegetation stores around 283 Gt of carbon. This large amount of carbon fixation is saving the planet from a climate explosion. Agriculture is a major source for greenhouse gas emissions. Around one third of the greenhouse emissions come from the agricultural sector. Human activities, through land use change induce changes in the capacity of the vegetation ecosystems to capture CO2. It is very important to quantify the impact of land use change into account when decide for food security policies. 

We assumed that in some countries, the actual crop yield is low and it could less than 50% of the potential yield. This means that we could in many countries save lands equal the area of the current croplands form being converted into cropland in order to double the food production. By only bridging the yield gap and produce a double amount of food from the same current cultivated area, we will be able to reduce the potential CO2 expected to be emitted from the agricultural sector in the future by 50%.    


What are other key benefits?

1. Overcome the problem of data scarcity, especially in the developing countries.

2. Provide a consistence and transparent methodology to analyze the consequences of different development scenarios on water, food and climate on a country scale. 

3. Emphasize the importance of natural vegetation in reducing the impact of climate change 

4. Discover the benefits of closing the crop yield gap in order to enhance food security and to alleviate the climate change impacts.

5. Results of this research would provide useful information to monitor the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

6. Offer a platform for analysing different development scenarios, which would provide key information useful for decision making.   


What are the proposal’s projected costs?

This project is feasible to be implemented with modest financial resources. The major cost will be for development and launching of the online tool. The total cost of HoVi Engine is approximately 50,000 $. Below is the cost breakdown: 

  • Online platform: 
  1. Design: 2500 $
  2. Server: 5000 $
  3. Hosting and domain name: 2400 $
  4. IT Manager: 11000 $
  • GIS data processing: 
  1. Two GIS Technican: for a period of 6 months: 9600 $
  • Research: 
  1. Three researchers for a period of 6 months: 18000 $
  2. Materials, books, reports: 1500 $


These costs are for the project establishment and maintaining the online platform. This project is potential to generate it's own source of income and be self sufficient. Providing chances for advertisement in the platform pages will provide a possible source of income for the project, which could be sufficient for maintaining the platform online on a long-term. 


This total duration of this project is around 18 months. This duration is subdivided into four development phases:

Phase I: Project setup and literature review - 3 months (March, 2018 - May, 2018)

Phase II: Data analysis and processing - 6 months (May, 2018 - Nov., 2018)

Phase III: Building HoVi Engine platform - 6 months (Dec., 2018 - June, 2019)

Phase IV: Testing the prototype version - 2 months (July, 2019 - Aug., 2019)

The official launching HoVi Engine online platform will be on Sept., 2019.

About the author(s)

Muhammad Khalifa is the author of this proposal. He is PhD researcher in the field of water resources management. He has a great interest in multidisciplinary research including using advanced methods and tools such as remote sensing for integrated water resources management. His current research interest falls within the fields of water-food security nexus, remote sensing and using public-domain data.

Related Proposals


Burke, M., Lobell, D.B., Turner, B.L., 2017. Satellite-based assessment of yield variation and its determinants in smallholder African systems Proceeding, 2189–2194. doi:10.1073/pnas.1616919114

Dias, L.C.P., Pimenta, F.M., Santos, A.B. Costa, M. H., and Ladle, R. J., 2016. Patterns of land use, extensification, and intensification of Brazilian agriculture. Global Change Biology, Volume 22, Issue 8, 2887–2903.  

Ray, D.K., Mueller, N.D., West, P.C., Foley, J.A., Meybeck, A., 2013. Yield Trends Are Insufficient to Double Global Crop Production by 2050. PLoS One 8, e66428. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0066428