Another Year, Another FOSS4G Conference: Leave No One Behind

Free Open Source Software for Geospatial (FOSS4G), a global conference that happens annually in various parts of the world, recently concluded its 2018 forum that attracted over 1,000 participants from over 20 countries. The meeting was held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, from August 27–31, 2018. Honorable January Makamba, Minister of State in the Vice President’s Office for Union Affairs and Environment, served as the keynote speaker for the event and noted the importance and impact of geospatial initiatives for Tanzanian policymakers. The meeting’s theme, “Leave No One Behind”, guided the participants through the six days of activities.

Honorable Makamba opened his address by noting that “The Free and Open Source Geospatial Conference, happening in Dar es Salaam is the first in Africa. It will showcase the incredible range of tools and projects that we can use to manage and understand our environment.” He further stated the importance of narrowing the gap between policy-makers and geo-technologists who through geospatial initiatives provide important and necessary data that inform decision-making processes for the policy-makers. Concerned about the continuity of geospatial initiatives in the country, Hon. Makamba noted the importance of teaching geospatial and creative thinking to children in as low as primary school to help Tanzania make better use of data, thus improving lives. The Minister reiterated the importance of collaboration and moving beyond technology and data to properly inform social, economic, and environmental decision-making and policy. “Standards should be driven by innovation and achieved through collaboration and if geospatial tools and data do not serve humanity, then they are simply toys.”

At the conference, The Geospatial and Farming Systems Research Consortium (GFC) of the Feed the FutureSustainable Intensification Innovation Lab (SIIL) partnered with the CGIAR to provide participants with a workshop: spatial data handling with R, and a myriad of presentations to attend, including the use of FOSS4G to spur innovation in agricultural research; mapping inequality in access to resources in R; economics of land degradation in Niger; to mention a few.

Emboldened by the success of past conferences, some participants have been faithful to attend subsequent conferences from 2016. “Last year’s session on Q-GIS was of positive impact on my organization as I went back and trained them on it. This year, I cannot wait to learn more from the workshops and in turn apply these learnings to my work,” beamed Joakim Svensberg of the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth.

Culminating the event on Thursday were two keynotes — by Neema Meremo and by Khadija Abdulla, who is also known as the ‘Queen of Drones’. Meremo works with Crowd2Map and uses maps to help protect girls and women from female genital mutilation and child marriage in rural Tanzania. To save these ladies, she uses maps to trace them hence she is also partnering with rural inhabitants to create the maps whilst strengthening the livelihoods of these communities. Abdulla is working on mapping Zanzibar using drones.

The FOSS4G conference is focused on bringing together developers, decision-makers, and observers to discuss open source geospatial software. Offering a wide array of workshops to attend, participants were spoilt for choice. “I attended the 2018 FOSS4G conference because I was interested in the workshops offered. I particularly had an interest in machine learning through R which I will be looking to integrate with my manual work for better results,” said Mohammed Ismail, Software Engineer at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), India, a first-timer at the FOSS4G conference. “Attending the ‘Spatial Data Handling with R’ workshop was critical for me.  It is my first time using R. I will train myself, master it, and then train my colleagues.” Ismail hopes to implement R to generate map requests that come from vendors for crop-type mapping.