Vital Signs Africa

Type of tool

Monitoring system


Vital Signs is an open access regional-scale monitoring system which integrates high-resolution co-located observations of human well being, ecosystem services and various development activities. VS generates indicators suitable for trade-off analysis at various spatial scales. The focus is on enabling informed decision-making for sustainable agricultural development. Indicators for water, climate, biodiversity and livelihoods are also generated. This prototype system currently covers three regions: Tanzania, Ghana and Ethiopia, with plans to expand to other parts of Africa and then the globe.

Vital Signs helps to minimize any unintended consequences of agriculture for nature. It provides the key data and the analytical tools that decision-makers need to evaluate trade‐offs, manage risk and inform decisions. By doing so, it influences policymakers to work toward resilient ecosystems and sustainable livelihoods for smallholder farmers.

VS operates at three levels: Measurement, Analysis, and Decision-Support. Measurements are collected and analyzed, and indicators are presented in an open-access online dashboard where policy-makers can visualize trade-offs.



Vital Signs provides near real-time data and diagnostic tools to leaders around the world to help inform agricultural decisions and monitor their outcomes.


Vital Signs operates by making grants to African organizations to implement the monitoring system in each country where the project works. Partners establish VS field offices in each country, and field teams travel to high-priority regions to collect data on agriculture, biodiversity and human well-being.

The same general principles are followed in all VS regions, allowing comparisons across regions. These principles are embodied in the ‘Sampling Frame’. Data collection includes conducting household surveys, measuring soil nutrients and crop yields, and performing both rapid and in-depth assessments of land cover and water quality.

The Sampling Frame broadly defines the statistical approach that guides where, when and how observations are made, and how they are analyzed in order to generate reliable estimates, along with quantified uncertainty, for the study region as a whole. The Sampling Frame is supplemented, in separate documents, by detailed methodologies describing precisely how each observation variable is defined and collected, as well as by workflows tracing how variables are transformed, combined, analyzed and reported as indicators and indices.


The system implemented in regions, which are contiguous areas of about 250,000 km2. These are usually at a sub-national scale, typically areas targeted by governments or the private sector for agricultural development. A region is characterized by broadly uniform socio‐ecological conditions (or a small number of repeating sets of conditions), each with some range of internal variation.

Please download the PDF Guide


The information is easily accessible at the average internet user’s proficiency level and requires no specialist knowledge, skill set or programme. The maps are available in a pared down geographical information system that is easy to navigate and use.


The system is predominately web based and requires internet access. Hardcopies of regional data are available, however in this format any information updates would be subject to publishing and distribution delays.


Funding description

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation provided funding to the project which is lead by This program is led by Conservation International in partnership with the Earth Institute at Columbia University and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in South Africa



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Carbon sinks (other than forests)
Management and/or conservation of land use


climate change
population distribution
population growth
population structure
ecosystem services

Country where the tool is in use


Target audience

Policy makers, government leaders, NGOs, scientists, civil society and the private sector