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Drought vulnerability as a critical index to improve productivity in Senegal

Tara Ippolito is a Ph.D. student in the Environmental Studies Program, College of Arts and Science, at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Her Ph.D. program is currently funded as a part of the Digital Tools, Geospatial, and Farming Systems consortium funded by USAID as a part of the Sustainable Intensification Innovation Lab (SIIL). She has a background in Mathematics and Computer Science and currently she is studying the biophysical challenges faced by smallholder farmers in Senegal.

One piece of the project she is working on involves making land capability classification maps in Senegal. The land capability classification is a rank USDA system of classifying land that uses data analytics. For this, Tara utilizes digital soil data and gives a high-level overview of how suitable the soils are for agriculture and what the preliminary limitations are. Utilizing Python technologies, Tara organizes and analyzes geospatial data to investigate the spatial patterns of land capability.

One of the main components of her work focuses on Senegal, specifically exploring long-term biophysical drought limitations. In this preliminary analysis, she is utilizing AquaCrop crop growth model [developed by the Land and Water Division of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations] to assess the effect of environment and management on drought vulnerability. The AquaCrop model simulates crop yield response to water availability, particularly suited to address conditions where water is a crucial limiting factor in crop production. In addition, she employs this model to assess the effect of environment and management on crop production.

Tara explained that the project is in the exploratory phase, working on retrieving data, processing, data analysis, and developing scenarios. She thinks that this project will build on the current drought vulnerability literature in the sub-Saharan Africa region.

She highlights the opportunity that this project can bring in providing options, access to digital tools, and more information that farmers and agronomists can use to make decisions and, in the worst-case scenario, avoid a crop failure or a high yield losses.

Moving forward, she is hoping to build a scalable tool that can be utilized by farmers for decision-making purposes.

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