Data is only be valuable if it can be accessed and used. Unfortunately, access to data is challenged in many countries by a lack of open data policies in many sectors of the economy – including agriculture.
Achieving food security through sustainable agriculture is a global priority, as reflected in goal 2 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which seeks to achieve Zero Hunger. Realising this aim requires sustainably increasing agricultural productivity, creating more resilient food production systems, and shaping more accessible and equitable markets.
The collection, access, sharing and use of data by different actors in the agriculture sector would improve decision-making on farms and have an impact on smallholders’ livelihoods. However, traditionally, data sharing has been done in a way that hinders its circulation among agricultural stakeholders and organisations. Greater political will and financial commitment are required to formulate, regulate and implement open data policies and practices that will help to better distribute agricultural data.
Role of governments in open data
In order to support open data for agriculture, governments can play various other roles – the first being to clean and update government data and publish it as open data online. Other possibilities include:
- Strengthening technical infrastructure at a national level, making it easier for open data to be accessed by various stakeholders;
- Building the capacities of stakeholders to use open data sources;
- Supporting data intermediaries, financially or otherwise, to use agriculture data to build information services or products for the sector;
- Encouraging public-private partnerships to sustain these information services and products;
- Encouraging other stakeholders (e.g. development organisations, researchers, private sector etc.) to publish their own data.
Open data on the agenda
A major component of CTA’s Data4Ag project is to support ACP countries’ policymaking organisations in the development of action plans, strategies and regulations around the management of farmer organisations’ farm data. Since April 2019, Wageningen Environmental Research, with funding from the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, has been working with CTA to support the Ghana Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) to develop policy objectives and plans to accelerate the opening up of governmental agricultural data. This work became known as the Accelerating Open Data Policy for Agriculture project.
Ghana is considered an open data champion on the African continent. In 2012, the country launched its open data portal, which was set up by Ghana’s Open Data Initiative operating under the auspices of the National Information Technology Agency (NITA). In 2017, Ghana hosted the Africa Open Data Conference, focusing discussions on open data and politics and public-private partnerships. The Conference also reviewed the contribution of open data policies in achieving SDGs across the continent.
Since this event, MoFA has been investing much of its efforts in modernising data-driven agriculture through its e-agriculture strategy and activities. MoFA’s e-Agriculture programme provides affordable, prompt and efficient agricultural information services through the use of the data and Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) thereby bridging the gap between agricultural extension agents (officers) and farmers in Ghana. In 2018, the initiative had registered approximately 677,000 farmers and provided them with mobile advisory services.
What does it take to formulate open data policies in Ghana?
The following are the steps that were taken under the leadership of the e-Agriculture Unit of MoFA, to formulate policy proposals in Ghana:
- A regional assessment was carried out on the gaps in open data supply and demand around policy issues;
- A mapping exercise was performed in April 2019 to identify various stakeholders, ranging from ministries, NGOs, and private sector actors who need and use data for agriculture in their work;
- In May 2019, a stakeholder meeting was organised, attracting 50 participants from government agencies, civil society organisations, farmers’ organisations, agri-tech companies, international development organisations, the media and other various private sector organisations. The consultations focused on identifying and prioritising open data needs;
- The Ministry of Food and Agriculture took the lead in establishing the project reference group, comprising relevant MoFA directorates, NITA’s e-transformation director, the Dutch Agricultural Councillor for West Africa and a local non-profit, Africa Open Data & Internet Research Foundation;
- Virtual and face-to-face project meetings lead to the co-development of a MoFA-led Policy Discussion Document proposing a common goal, four long-term policy objectives and four short- to medium-term action plans to deliver open agricultural data.
In many ACP countries, open data policy discussions are still led and initiated by development partners and donor organisations. To accelerate agriculture’s transformation, there is a need for governments and their affiliated institutions to understand the role of open data, to mobilise required resources, and to join efforts with key stakeholders in ensuring data is treated as a public good.
MoFA will continue to advance its open data policies to modernise agriculture. The Policy Discussion Document will be used to support a range of strategic planning and investment activities by MoFA and other stakeholders who influence open data policy and practice in Ghana; it aims at building a consensus around a common policy statement and cooperative implementation plan for using open data to transform Ghana’s food and agricultural sector.