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Career summary

Page history last edited by simonernest@... 14 years ago

Dr Simon Cook:

Dr Cook leads research to support change in agriculture. He has lived in the UK, Australia, Colombia and Sri Lanka and brings over 25 years experience from research and practice in Australia, Latin America (mainly Colombia, Brazil, Nicaragua and Honduras), South and South-East Asia (India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Lao), Africa (Ghana, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, RSA, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe) and the UK. He offers an ability to define complex conceptual problems and a specialization in spatial information technologies to help solve them. These are implemented through many contacts in academic, industrial, government and non-government institutes. His current focus is on global and regional scale problems of food and water, but he also has expertise in solving operational problems of soil science and agronomy at local to sub-field scale.


Dr Cook’s research is outcome-focused. To meet the challenges of the 21st century, agriculture must change more rapidly than the world is changing around it, or be destined to become the last refuge of the poor or incompetent. Change in agriculture is enabled by reducing uncertainties caused by complexity and spatial variation. To tackle complexity, it is usually essential to use a strongly inter-disciplinary approach to re-examine the agricultural system from new perspectives, since prevailing views generally omit crucial elements that are necessary to move forward. To remove uncertainty caused by spatial variation, decision makers need instruments that use spatial information in practical decision making.


The following 4 four areas summarize Dr Cook's recent activities. More information can be found at Publications :


1 Defining water food and poverty

For the past 5 years Dr Cook has been coordinating projects in 10 river basins in Africa, Asia and Latin America (see map below). These basins contain a collective population of approximately 1 billion. The purpose of research is to identify the complex interactions between water and food systems, in order to identify specific interventions to support development. These activities are known as the Basin Focal Projects of the CGIAR Challenge Program for Food and Water (CPWF). Details can be found at. These projects have produced almost 50 papers to date, with many more in the pipeline. Information can be found in a special journal issue from 2009. Two further special issues of Water International are in preparation [for publication late in 2010], together with a book, Water, Food and Poverty, to be published by Taylor and Francis in March 2011. These projects are strongly inter-disciplinary and provide technical advisers to policy-makers with geographically specific advice about the water related causes of poverty and opportunities for change. Projects analyze the complex relationships between people, agriculture and water in major river basins of the world. Dr Cook's duties are to coordinate project teams from over 30 institutes. He is responsible for the overall vision and coherence of research that is essential to make a significant contribution to solving the global problems relating to water and food. Dr Cook is able to develop this insight through a broad understanding of issues ranging from the biophysical, social and political sciences. Moreover, he has become able to apply these insights to change-supporting processes within basins.



Dr Cook has been involved in the Challenge Program for Water and Food since its inception in 2002. He contributed to the original proposal for this Challenge Program. Prior to coordinating the basin focal projects, he was the Leader for Theme 2 of the CPWF - Water and People in Catchments - and responsible for the oversight of approximately 20 projects



2 Site-specific crop insurance

Dr Cook also leads a small team that is developing a novel method of that is suitable for poor farmers in the tropics. Drought hits millions of poor farmers each year, and the risk of drought deprives many more of access to micro-finance, without which they cannot make basic investments in fertilizer, seed or infrastructure. Micro-finance is spreading fast throughout the world but farmers are excluded from because what they do is viewed as risky by insurers. By supporting the development of low-cost insurance, he hopes to enable micro-lending to many more small farmers who need it. The method uses two sets of models to estimate drought risk on which to base a rainfall index. A climate generator provides simulated long-run weather data for virtually any site in the tropics. This is coupled to crop simulation models to indicate the correlation with yield loss. The method has been trialed in Central America and South East Asia. Negotiations are under way with a large NGO to investigate how to use it to outscale insurance beyond trial areas. The method introduces information about agronomy to the insurance product, thereby reducing basis risk that is currently borne by the farmer. For more information go to Site-specific-insurance.


3 Precision agriculture

During the 1990’s, Dr Cook led the CSIRO Precision Agriculture Research Group in Australia. This group pioneered the practical implementation of precision agriculture in Australia, producing the first yield maps for grain (in 1993); the first yield maps for sugar cane and wine grape. They were also the first to use variable rate technology (VRT) for a highly innovate approach to on-farm experimentation. Adoption of precision agriculture technology in Australia is now amongst the highest in the world. This research group was the first to realize that the prescription approach to precision agriculture was a step in the wrong direction, since it ignored many informal factors that farmers included in complex decisions. Instead the group developed methods that empowered farmers to use their well-developed enthusiasm for experimentation. For more information, go to the PA link



4 Natural Resource mapping

Dr Cook joined CSIRO in 1991 to develop soil mapping methodologies for Western Australia and maintains an interest in the area. With his group, he introduced innovations in Bayesian rule-based mapping technologies that enabled broad-scale mapping of soil properties over huge areas on the basis of expert surveyor knowlege, terrain information and other readily-available information. A similar method - EDA- has been used recently to prospect for areas likely to be suitable for agricultural development technologies. The group also demonstrated the use of airborne gamma radiometric mapping methods for soil mapping over large areas (this data now covers the majority of the agricultural area of Australia). More recently, techniques have included the 'hybrid' Gaussian Process method. In all cases, the approach taken was to examine the problem from the user’s perspective in order to identify how to provide solutions at the scale required, rather than focus on more esoteric methods that - while publishable - offer little realistic chance of adoption. For more information, please see Publications 




Simon Cook has a background in geography, soil science and agronomy. He trained at the Universities of Cambridge, Reading and Swansea in the U.K. Since that time, has spent much of his career developing spatial information products to support agricultural decision-making at field, basin and global scale. He has over 20 years' experience managing research projects in several regions. In 2000 he joined CIAT (International Center for Tropical Agriculture)in Cali, Colombia to lead the Land Use Project, a group of over 50 GIS specialists working on projects in Latin America, South-East Asia and Africa. Since 2002, he has developed expertise in the area of food and water systems, as they affect rural development and poverty alleviation. Working from Cali, he spent substantial periods in Asia and Africa and was based in Colombo, Sri Lanka, for 2 years. Prior to joining CIAT, Dr Cook led the precision agriculture research group in CSIRO, Australia, based in Perth. With colleagues, his research there focused on the development of precision agriculture techniques for the grains industry. Since 1991, he has researched innovative methods of soil and land resource mapping in Australia, S.E. Asia and Central America.


Positions held

  • Currently: Independent consultant, based in Perth, Australia. Contracts globally, contracted from Sri Lanka, Colombia, Kenya, UK.
  • 2005-2010; Coordinator, Basin Focal Projects of the CGIAR Challenge Program on Water & Food. Based in Sri Lanka and Colombia.
  • 2002-2005. Theme 2 Leader; CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food.
  • 2000-2004; Leader Land Use Project; CIAT, Cali, Colombia.
  • 1993-2000: Leader, CSIRO Precision Agriculture Research Group of CSIRO Land and Water, based in Perth, Australia.
  • 1991-1993; Project Leader; CSIRO Division of Soils, Perth Laboratory.
  • 1989-1991: Consultant and lecturer, University of North London, UK.
  • 1985-1989: Research Assistant. University of Cambridge, UK
  • 1983-1985. Consultant, Land Use Consultants, Willingham, Cambridge, UK.



  • Problem solving: Able to understand a wide range of discipline bases in biophysical and social sciences and hence capable of sourcing cross-disciplinary solutions to highly complex problems.
  • Specialist knowledge: Agricultural development and poverty alleviation, with special focus on the role of water & food systems; natural resource management; application of GIS and other spatial information technologies
  • Team leadership and management: Skilled at defining direction and strategy but happy to defer to team director for implementation
  • Coaching and mentoring: Competent at linking 'young with old' and mentoring others to enable them to mobilize their particular skills.



Dr Cook has the following qualifications:

  • Bachelor of Science with Honours in Physical Geography from the University of Wales, UK, 1981
  • Master of Science with Distinction in Pedology and Soil Survey from the University of Reading, UK, 1982.
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Soil Science from the University of Cambridge, UK, 1989
  • Related topics

    Basin focal projects Water food and poverty Bayesian network mapping. Poverty, soil variation Gamma radiometric soil mapping On-farm experimentation for precision agriculture Basin focal projects. BFP working papers Site-specific crop insurance. Precision agriculture.


    How to contact:

  • Email: simonernest@gmail.com
  • Tel: +61 423 747 394
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