In September 2016, the first Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) summit took place in New York. And in February 2017, the third international workshop on impacts with open data in agriculture and nutrition was held in The Hague, the Netherlands.
Both events showed progress made to provide better access to accurate, timely information for policy-makers, farmers and private sector to shape a more sustainable agriculture future.
About one in nine people on earth suffer from hunger and malnutrition. To tackle that data has risen high on the food security policy agenda. How can something abstract as data tackle such a real global threat as hunger and malnutrition?
In the last decade, an exponential increase in the volume and types of data has become available. First, there is the everyday flood of “big data” that has been created by interactions of billions of people using computers, GPS devices, cell phones, and medical devices in all countries, including developing and emerging economies. Secondly, it is about making data about agriculture and nutrition available, accessible and usable. According to the Open Data Institute, open data is data that anyone can access, use or share. The last findings of the Open Data Impact Map show that just five sectors account for over half of the organisations that make use of open data in the last decade: agriculture, data/information technology, governance, healthcare, and housing and real estate.
The benefits for agriculture are potentially huge. Releasing the enormous stock of data will encourage cooperation and collaboration to solve long-standing and evolving problems, benefit farmers, provide informed based decision for businesses and policy-makers and will improve the health of consumers. It is believed that providing better access to accurate, timely information for policy-makers, farmers and private sector, can help in shaping a more sustainable agriculture future with evidence-based solutions, contributing at the same time to a more transparent decision-making. Open data can support in improving data in agriculture and nutrition at global scale – by tracking progress better and increase awareness of what works – and how to share the best practices and innovations in open data that eventually could improve governance.
From this premise, the GODAN initiative was created. It was the result of the April 2013 G8 International Conference on Open Data for Agriculture, when the leaders of G8 nations obtained commitment and action from nations and relevant stakeholders to promote policies and invest in projects that open access to publicly funded global agriculturally relevant data streams. They also aimed to make data readily accessible to users in Africa and worldwide. GODAN is a worldwide growing initiative with currently over 403 partners from national governments, non-governmental, international and private sector organisations that focus on building high-level policy, public and private institutional awareness and support. The aim is that proactive sharing and linking data should make information about agriculture and nutrition available, accessible and useable to deal with the urgent challenge of ensuring world food and nutrition security.
The first GODAN Summit was held on 15 and 16 September 2016 in New York and brought together world leaders, researchers, businesses, farmer organisations, NGOs, students, international media and many others. They discussed and raised awareness about open data as a mean to advance the UN Sustainable Development Goal on ending hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture, in order to change policies, and to illustrate best practices of making agriculture and nutrition data available, accessible and usable in all sectors and all nations.
After the GODAN conference, in February 2017 the third creating Impact with Open Data in Agriculture and Nutrition international workshop took place in The Hague. Where the GODAN summit showcased progress at a policy level, The Hague workshop shared the experience of practical interventions across the world. It focussed on some big wins in the sector and the next steps that can be taken to put these wins in place, with an emphasis on private sector actors. Read more on the third international workshop.
Different perspectives from users
One important target group that plays a vital role in the success of open data development, are App developers who bring new ICT services to the market based on data collection, data dissemination, and data sharing. Also, journalists, campaigners, and farmer organisations are important intermediaries between the supply and demand of data. They take the data and transform it into accessible information best adapted for the local context. A focus on the users’ perspectives, therefore, should prevent policy-makers from open data becoming a goal on its own.
Open data promoters need to overcome many challenges such as difficulties in data access, institutional barriers, poor data quality, lack of adequate technical skills, lack of regulatory frameworks or simply out of time data. So far, many questions have arisen around the use of open data: how do we ensure that no one is excluded from this open data revolution? How to avoid the trap of contributing to reinforce the digital divide between those who have access to data and those who don’t have? How to ensure an inclusive open data ecosystem that can benefit end users such as practitioners, developers, data managers, policy officers.
Elements of consideration
Maximum impact can only be created if the promoters of open data are willing to work on a comprehensive policy approach on open data in agriculture that includes all stakeholders. An adequate infrastructure is needed for countries to leverage and upscale the work on open data. When referring to emerging countries, this shall comprise an adequate regulatory framework, where people are capacitated to access and use open data, and where challenges such as affordable and reliable internet (especially for emerging countries) are considered.
Promoters of open data need to provide robust recognised guidelines on data standards, data sharing, and data quality, to enhance data interoperability that enables users and producers of open data in agriculture and nutrition to work more effectively and in a more coherent way. At the same time, it is important to stress that because of their traditional role as a source of information, intermediaries can create the necessary linkages to fill the frequent mismatch between open data supply and open data demand. For instance, journalists or extension workers can bring data and information closer to local realities.
Handling the amount of data
It is important to ensure that the beneficiaries – from government officials to representatives from the business sector, to farmers and journalists – are technically prepared to handle the huge quantity of data that is produced on a daily basis, so that they are able to identify the best approaches that are most appropriate to guarantee impact on food security and nutrition.
Finally, there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to open data. Instead, local solutions are needed that can address the real needs and challenges within the local context and demands from end users.
This issue of ICT Update, therefore, portrays how GODAN and other stakeholders are creating a global open data movement in agriculture and nutrition from the perspectives of its users by showcasing some of the best practices and the most common challenges in this field.