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Making a difference with big data in development

Big data has become a focus for development and for agriculture

March 14, 2016

Big data is playing an increasing role in agriculture and rural development. More and more key development institutions, research organisations and individuals are recognising the budding potential of big data to facilitate innovation, and create impact on smallholder agriculture. This potential touches on, for example, precision farming with very efficient water and fertiliser use, food security coordination through tracking, tracing and transparency, personalised health and nutrition advice and creating biological systems.

Big data gathered using mobile phones, drones, internet systems and satellites is being used in projects to analyse existing behaviours or topics such as demography, climate change, market-based interactions, crops, livestock, landscape and forest infrastructure, saving time and improving productivity.

Two leading institutions from the worlds of development and agriculture have established initiatives encouraging the use of big data to solve development problems: The World Bank Group (WBG) and Wageningen University and Research Centre (Wageningen UR).

The Big Data Innovation Challenge 

In February 2016, the Innovation Labs of the WBG held an event highlighting innovation prize-winners within the Bank. The winning projects are applying big data to promote climate-smart agriculture, using it to identify poverty indicators and secure property rights. The WBG first announced the Big Data Innovation Challenge in 2014 to start off a new programme called ‘Innovations in Big Data & Analytics for Development’, which identifies and promotes data-driven initiatives.

Among the innovations celebrated are some applications close to CTA’s practical areas and focus in big data:

A Big Data Science Centre launched

Wageningen UR (ranked top Global Agricultural Sciences University according to recent classifications of US News) celebrated its 98th anniversary on 9 March 2016 at the Orion building of the Wageningen Campus. The ceremony was marked by the plans to launch the University's Big Data Science Centre. During the event, Arthur Mol, Rector Magnificus at Wageningen UR, explained the institution's approach to the use of big data, which focuses on its application in precision farming, even flying a drone over the audience.

Rector flying dronePhoto credit: @LaradeBrito

The launch of this Big Data Science Centre is great news for CTA as it will facilitate a number of projects that CTA and Wageningen UR-Alterra are currently implementing relevant to open data on agriculture and rural development in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific regions.

The occasion also gave quite a number of groups the opportunity to present their current research using big data. For instance, keynote speaker Laxmi Parid, head of the Computational genomics group of IBM's Thomas J. Watson Research Center, presented the work they are doing using the Watson computer to assist in research using big data through the Watson Discovery Advisor.


- Learn more about the Wageningen UR activities in the field of big data
- Read about the Wageningen Big data event
- Read about the World Bank Group's Big data work
- Open Data for farming
- Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN)

Stay connected

- Follow @CTAflash on Twitter for regular updates
- Find more on Twitter with the #BigData hashtag