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Come rain come shine - STARS not deterred 

So I pack for summer, thinking to myself it should be summer almost everywhere I’ll be over the next two months. But, oh guess what, rain, cold, rain.  This is what I was in for, for a week at ITC University of Twente, in Enschede, Netherlands, while attending the STARS General Meeting. I should back up a bit. This was my first time in the Netherlands, my first time at this latitude and longitude and I’ve been away from my current home in the US a whole month already. I didn’t bother much with checking the weather since I figured I’m always prepared (over-prepared in-fact) for whatever with my closet size luggage - equipped with all weather articles and gadgets-umbrella to rain boots. In any case, I’d packed for fieldwork in Tanzania. This usually means come rain come shine, I’m ready. 

Day One was playing catch-up day. All STARS teams had a day to get on the same page, learn as much as possible about all STARS projects, progress made in the past 6-9 months and fit everything into set themes that we were meant to discuss during the general meeting. We broke the ice the night before at Gusto!, a bar literally next door to the hotel which was quite nice I must say! I have to commend the ITC team for getting everything planned. Not much one needed to know before arriving in addition to the team making sure to give us regular updates; when, where, who and what. But most importantly the weather forecast for Thursday afternoon. When we were meant to take a bike tour of Enschede, and to Lonneker Molen (mill, see picture) before dinner. 

Lonneker mill

It is amazing how quickly things move when you have a high concentration of some of the world’s greatest minds. Teamwork prevailed and all teams were set to present, criticize, discuss and learn from each other in under 8 hours. The general meeting started promptly at 9 am on the 26th with presentations from invited speakers followed by what I’d call bullet-speed (Usain Bolt speed if you like) presentations from the four different teams that make up STARS. I do hope everyone was caught up because there was surely a lot to sink in under one hour. The same afternoon saw a kick-off of the themed presentations. These distinctly but synergistically touched on all components from possible societal impacts, data analysis, flows and issues, to advocacy of the STARS project.

Of most importance and discussed extensively were the potential societal impacts of the STARS projects. It was very clear that remote sensing and novel technologies such as cellphones that have revolutionized even banking in sub-Saharan Africa present an unprecedented avenue to revolutionize the quality, quantity and frequency of information about farmers and their fields. This information is needed to make critical but most importantly timely and appropriate decisions. 

Prior to closing, the invited speakers/advisors were invited to give feedback to the entire STARS team. Nothing drastic in my view, just modest even achievable requests including rallying as a community to find avenues to make high resolution satellite data needed to monitor subsistence systems if not freely, just reasonably accessible in terms of cost and quality. Another request was for the teams to work towards systematized tools' sharing before a thought-provoking discussion ensued on managing expectations and working/ preparing players and partners for end of project consequences.  Kate Schneider and Stanley Wood from the Gates Foundation also provided feedback to STARS, emphasizing the need for STARS to present a concerted voice of the potentials and the need for remote sensing tools, data and information in smallholder farming systems.

Oh wait a minute; I forgot to mention that the afternoon bike ride was perfect!!!! The rain and cold-maker took a break and the sun was shining. I think the topography added to the fun. No hills + sunshine = the best bike ride ever! We did get a brief tour of Enschede including pit stop at the former SE Fireworks depot: the location of the genesis of the 2000 fireworks disaster. This is considered to be one of, if not the worst fireworks disaster of all time. Everyone cycled safely to dinner at the beautiful restaurant Sprakel in het Bos Lonneker. I didn't want any cake and cream for desert so I opted for fresh mint tea. Later on though, I couldn’t resist Rolf's offer of an ice cream downtown. From the No.1 ice cream parlour in all of The Netherlands!!!!

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