ICTs for Development

Markets and Value Chains

Agricultural data – a two-way flow

March 24, 2015

As the notion of open data for agriculture gains momentum, it is important to recognise that information-sharing is at its best when it is a two-way street – between data providers and small-scale producers, and vice-versa.

MartinGodan400.jpgSome farmers’ organisations are encountering difficulties in collecting valuable data from farmers and feeding it to other players in the value chain, according to Gustave Ewolé, president of the Central African farmers’ organisation platform (Plateforme Sous Régionale des Organisations Paysannes d’Afrique Centrale, PROPAC). Speaking at the recent Global Forum for Innovations in Agriculture (GFIA) 2015, held in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Ewolé said there was an urgent need for capacity building in this area.

“We are currently working on a database, but we are finding it difficult to obtain good information. What is needed is a mechanism to monitor and coordinate information that is gathered at local level and then to make it available and distribute it at national and then at regional and even continental level,” he said.

“There is also a need for an effective information feed in the other direction – one that could be channelled down to farmers to help them make decisions about their crops and livestock,” added Ewolé.

Cgiar300.jpgDelivering farmer-friendly data

Although a great deal of data can now be collected passively from farmers using various technologies, the real challenge lies in ensuring that any information directed at farmers is delivered in a user-friendly manner, said Theo de Jager, President of the Pan African Farmers' Organisation (PAFO).

“It is no use if the information comes back in a raw form to the average African farmer,” said de Jager. Helping producers to interpret that data will also be critical."

“The farmer needs to be able to say: what does this mean for my decision-making?” he said, and for agricultural data to have any real value it is important that information is up-to-date. “Even data has a sell-by-date,” said de Jager.

martinFarmer300.jpgData services and the role of the private sector

A business model is likely to be more successful than an aid-based model in delivering effective data to farmers, the meeting heard. In southern and eastern Africa, the private sector is already becoming involved in data provision and a number of pilot projects involving data services and farmers’ organisations have produced promising results.

There may also be scope for using valuable data to help finance and improve farmers’ organisations – producing a direct knock-on effect for the farmers themselves. Farmers could use their organisations to cut a deal for them with the data management services that are emerging, ensuring that they collectively benefit from their data.

“I believe that a revolution in big data can also bring about a revolution in farmers’ organisation structures,” said de Jager. Many African farmers’ organisations are seriously underfunded and under-represented, with some small-scale producers failing to join because they cannot afford the membership fees, said the PAFO president.

“The farmers’ organisations can start paying for themselves if we design it right from the start. Farmers should have a stake in data ownership and data could be a mechanism for financing farmers’ organisations.”

Learn more on open data for agriculture and nutrition

For further details and multimedia about the debate on open data held at GFIA in March 2015, browse this special blog elaborated by CTA through the Storify online tool.