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Generating better outcomes for food and nutrition with open data

November 17, 2015

“We are entering an exciting era of possibilities. Satellites will provide a wealth of data and information will be available for people’s use and reuse at a low cost. Global data sources can be enriched with local knowledge for development and localising technological services can help farmers make good decisions.” Stated Michel Berkelmans, director for Agriculture and Nature Knowledge, Ministry of Economic Affairs of the Netherlands at the workshop ‘Creating Impact with Open Data in Agriculture and Nutrition’ held on 10 -11 November, 2015 in The Hague, The Netherlands.

This event built upon the highly successful first open data workshop, held at Wageningen University in January 2015, also supported by the Ministry, and where datasets, tools, networks and open data initiatives being applied to agricultural and nutritional issues were showcased.

The second workshop, bringing together civil society organisations, researchers, government representatives, development agencies, entrepreneurs and journalists, focused on discovering what impact in open data means to each stakeholder and how they can connect the use of open data to enhancing their practices in developing agriculture and nutritional food security.

At the event, participants stressed the urgent need to work ‘with’ - and not ‘along with’ - farmers in the open data quest. CTA, which is championing the data revolution, is working closely with Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) and other partners to help gather relevant research, documents, articles and datasets for re-packaging and distribution to smallholder farmers. It is critical for farmers to know: what and how to plant, in what way to care for crops and how to tackle diseases but – equally important – to know how and where to sell their produce to make a profit. 

Chris Addison of CTA chaired the session on the Opportunities for Business innovations with Israel Bionyi Nyoh and Isaura Lopes joining the social reporting team at the event.

The challenges for open data

While participants at the workshop were convinced that making data open can unlock great potential in the agricultural sector, they were also aware that not all data can be released. Stacie Irwin, director of programs, West Africa at VOTO Mobile posed the question of what is the added value for the private sector to make their data open. “Is the degree of positive impact worth the investment needed to achieve impact with open data?” she asked. 

Getting the right data through the appropriate channels to the right people at the right time was another key issue raised by the participants. However, Derek Scuffell of Syngenta is positive about the changes that technology and open data can bring and he called on stakeholders to recognise open data’s potential. Talking about the use of open data in Syngenta’s Good Growth Plan he said, “Think of your data as a resource description framework. Technology is not a barrier, it is a cultural shift.”

The benefits of open data

Keynote speaker Casper Sitemba, senior director for intergovernmental relations at the Office of the Deputy President of Kenya, presented Mfarm, M-shamba and Icow as tech-oriented open data solutions that are helping thousands of farmers across Kenya and East Africa. He said, “Kenyan data services help farmers to know where they can sell, at what price and how to make the most profit.” To Sitemba, open data is critical for economic growth, policy, transparency and accountability. He also stated that the Kenyan government joined GODAN to create impact in agriculture and nutrition by making information open to people in rural areas.

On the second day of the workshop, the use of satellite open data was presented by Adri Bakker of the Netherlands Space Office. Over 1,000 satellites are currently making observations of the earth and the EU Copernicus programme is launching the ‘Sentinel’ missions to provide ever more detailed observations which can be applied to agriculture. The Geodata for Agriculture and Water programme (G4AW) focuses on how this open data might be applied to developing countries and currently supports 14 projects, including the Market-led, User-owned ICT4Ag Enabled Information Service (MUIIS) project managed by CTA.

Impact indicators for open data projects, exploring business solutions for open data use and good practices were also suggested at the meeting fulfilling one of its key objectives. More detailed information on the event and its outcomes is provided on the GODAN site.


Open access to data that can influence food production and nutrition is crucial for innovation in agriculture and value chain development. Download CTA’s two Working Papers on this topic:

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Follow the #GODAN hashtag on Twitter to get the latest on open data for agriculture.

Visit the GODAN.INFO website for more information on GODAN's activities. 

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