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Towards a global data ecosystem for agriculture and food

CTA and partners are building capacity in ACP countries to use open data in agriculture

October 13, 2016

At the recent International Open Data Conference, CTA reported on four innovative approaches to developing the capacity of farmers and other groups to use open data in tackling key agricultural and nutritional challenges.

Feeding the world’s growing population means that agriculture must adapt to increasing demands and changing conditions such as those caused by climate change and volatile markets. Many initiatives have been launched in recent years to help unlock the potential for using open data to innovate.

“Open data on its own will be hampered by capacity and literacy asymmetries and farmers would therefore not realise any gains from it,”  
Muchiri Nyaggah, Local Development Research Institute (LDRI).

Developing data standards, or analysing and publishing the large amounts of data that already exist on agricultural processes and products can increase productivity, as has already happened in other industries. For example, geological, satellite and weather data together can accurately forecast problems such as drought and disease.  

CTA has been involved in this area for a number of years and has recently stepped up its activity through the GODAN Action Project (Global Open Data for Impact and Capacity Development in Agriculture and Nutrition). GODAN is an international partnership between Wageningen UR–AlterraAgroKnow, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR), the Land Portal, the Technical Centre for Agriculture and Rural Cooperation (CTA), the Open Data Institute (ODI), AidData and the Institute of Development Studies (IDS). 

The Action Project was launched by the UK’s Department for International Development to bring together agriculture and nutrition specialists, and open data experts to building people’s capacity to engage with open data. This work will contribute to increased farmers’ yields, improved nutrition for consumers and better evidence-based policy making. Focusing on standards, research and capacity, the project will be supported by activities aiming at uptake of its results and monitoring and evaluation. 

CTA’s GODAN project coordinator Isaura Lopes made a presentation to the International Open Data Conference in Madrid, Spain on 7 October 2016, focusing on capacity development. Much of the work reported came from the activities of the GODAN Capacity Development Working Group, which is led by CTA, FAO and ODI. “We presented several innovative approaches that we are developing, which are aimed at allowing data publishers, farmers’ organisations, civil society and journalists to use open data to tackle key agricultural and nutritional challenges,” said Isaura Lopes.

The project started by assessing existing training needs, incentives and barriers, and mapping the capacity-building landscape to identify key partners. A capacity-building group was developed in partnership with GODAN, to make the most of the significant contribution and resources of its international members working with open data. As a result, a range of capacity development activities will take place, with a specific focus on Africa. The project will focus on building capacity using four approaches and will assess their efficacy.

The four approaches are:

1)   Face to face: to promote open data training with existing ICT training providers and help improve open data materials

2)   'Workbench' activities: with multiple stakeholders on an open data project building their applications and learning about key success factors

3)   E-training: to develop online training courses based on existing approaches with FAO

4)   Self-learning: in particular, innovative approaches to learning using mobile phones.

“Our challenge is the opening of access to this data not just through coding but through awareness and use.”
Chris Addison, CTA

All the materials produced for each training event will be uploaded to the 'open data learning repository' to ensure efficiency and knowledge sharing among capacity development activities. This will enhance capacity on data production and data curation amongst different stakeholder groups such as data producers and researchers.

During the meeting, various stakeholders talked about their experience in using open data, understanding the use of the capacity building developed within the project, as well as the subsequent changes to their approach and use of open data in tackling key agriculture and nutrition challenges.

Open data can be particularly useful to journalists writing about the critical challenges facing agriculture. Participants heard about the CTA-sponsored training provided to members of the CAADP Journalists Network, with practical tips for using open data. CAADP is the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme, which works to improve food security and nutrition, and increase incomes in Africa's largely farming-based economies.

One of the key resources of the GODAN Action Project will be a Knowledge Repository Platform of learning materials on open data, including examples of good practice, success stories, training materials and initiatives hosted on the GODAN website. Produced and used by the many different stakeholders in agriculture, from smallholders to multinational conglomerates, a shared global data space will drive forward the productivity and efficiency of the industry.

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