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Shaping agricultural policy and outcomes with open data

Impact story

Open data has the potential to transform agriculture and facilitate food security around the world

© CTA

Digitalisation

In collaboration with the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition project, CTA is identifying open data champions and enabling new policies on open data for agriculture and nutrition, with the aim of combatting global hunger.

“Open data, especially open government data, has the potential to transform agriculture and facilitate food security around the world,” says Chris Addison, Senior Programme Coordinator for CTA’s Data4Ag project. He has been working with farmers’ organisations, agribusinesses and governments to illustrate how open data can improve agricultural productivity, profitability, financing and value chain efficiency. “If we take weather data, for example, having weather records open makes it possible to price risk for producers, one of the main factors constraining the smallholder insurance market,” Addison explains.

CTA has played a prominent role in shaping the global discourse on open data in agriculture since it began supporting the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) project. Established in 2014 and now with more than 920 members, GODAN promotes the proactive sharing of agriculture data to assist smallholder production, and as an essential element in achieving Sustainable Development Goal 2: Zero hunger.

At a 2017 GODAN ministerial conference in Nairobi, Kenya, an event supported by CTA, the project was given a major boost. Over 400 people registered for the conference, which culminated in the Nairobi Declaration, a historic agreement under which 15 African countries committed to make data on agriculture and nutrition freely available, accessible and usable.

Open data champions

Leveraging on the GODAN network, CTA has identified open data champions to extend the reach and influence of the project. “Open data champions are opinion leaders in their respective political, social or technical area,” says André Laperrière, GODAN’s Executive Director. “They are drawn from the private sector, government, farmers’ organisations and other stakeholder groups.”

Open data champions operate largely at the policy level, with the aim of influencing and strengthening weak legislation around the generation, flow, exchange and use of data. CTA helps to identify these champions and works closely with them to ensure farmers’ rights and needs are not overlooked in open data policy discussions. “In that sense we complement each other very nicely,” says Laperrière, “with GODAN working predominantly from the top and CTA from the bottom up.”

To maximise the potential of open data, capacity building takes place through GODAN Action, the CTA-managed capacity development arm of GODAN. This is done in three distinct ways: addressing the digital divide; strengthening participation of women and young people; and creating sustainable communities of practice. In the case of the third component, individual modules have been developed for those wanting to specialise in land, weather and nutrition data. To date, the e-learning course has attracted 4,448 journalists, ICT workers, policymakers, extension officers and researchers.

Influencing data policy

Ghana is just one of several countries where efforts are showing significant results. “Ghana was among the first African countries to join the Open Government Partnership, which promotes accountable, responsive and inclusive governance. “In the same year, 2012, the National Information Technology Agency started the Ghana Open Data Initiative. That was the beginning of the open data process here,” says Wisdom Donkor, president and CEO of the Africa Open Data and Internet Research Foundation and open data champion. “In 2017, Ghana hosted the second Open Data Conference, which CTA co-funded, and in March 2019, the parliament passed the Right to Information Bill, which will allow more transparency and accountability in public affairs,” says Donkor.

Despite this encouraging progress, Donkor says that policy gaps were a challenge from the outset. “When we launched the Ghana Open Data Initiative, the policies in place didn’t mandate the release of certain government data to the public. In addition, the various government departments were producing data in different formats. This meant that even if data was released, it was often difficult to use. Finally, we found that many people didn’t have a clear understanding of what was meant by open data or its value. As a result, initiatives were being launched without reference to quality data that could have assisted the decision-making process.”

Following multiple engagements with government and non-government stakeholders, including the Ministry of Food and Agriculture and farmers’ organisations, priority issues and objectives around open data were identified. The policy drafting team, of which Donkor was apart, incorporated this information into a new national open data policy that was completed and submitted to the parliament for review early in 2019. The content will be released for public comment in the coming months.

“The new policy mandates that all government data, notably agricultural and health data, be released for free. But perhaps the biggest impact the policy will have, at least in the short term, is that everyone will be clear about the meaning and relevance of open data. My hope is that this will encourage further data sharing and policy development in Ghana as well as other African countries, such as Togo and Liberia, which have already expressed an interest in learning from our experience,” says Donkor.

To support the development of an open data policy plan for the agricultural sector, the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, Wageningen Environmental Research and CTA are currently working with the Ghana Ministry of Food and Agriculture. The project provides the opportunity to engage with a range of national and sub-national stakeholders in identifying and prioritising data releases, informing national policy, strategies or investment plans for open data on agriculture and nutrition, and convening a National Forum on open data for food and agriculture.

Harnessing the Power of Data

In sub-Saharan Africa, the yield gap – the difference between a crop’s potential and the real yield – is often high, with many farmers harvesting 25% of the amount of maize, millet or other staple crop they could be getting, using the right information, technologies and inputs. This helps to explain why only 20% of the food produced in many African countries is sold, as smallholder farmers need to keep the rest just to feed themselves. Hence low incomes and widespread rural poverty.

Leading the data revolution

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