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Forging links in open data for agriculture and nutrition



CTA facilitated two Data4Agriculture meetings simultaneously in Kigali and Brussels on 14 June 2016. Although the roles of the panels were different, there were many similarities in the conclusions.

Both events recognised the different actors involved in managing data for agriculture and the different approaches which are yielding results.

Session on Data, information and knowledge systems, at the 7th African Agriculture Science Week - Kigali

Four panellists shared their views on open data in agriculture and how it could support the implementation of the Science Agenda for African Agriculture (S3A). To start with, Andre Laperriere, GODAN's executive director, pointed out the need to have a concrete action plan on open data as well as to invest in capacity development and training on open data that really reflect the needs of end users. Additionally, he stressed the importance of having key open datasets that can really respond to user needs of users as well as standard formats or interfaces that allow data to communicate one with each other.

Data is just a series of binary numbers. What you do with data is what counts —Andre Laperriere

Additionally, Dr Joel Sam, the director at the CSIR-Institute for Scientific and Technological Information (INSTI), gave a general overview on open data and open science through the lens of the Ghana Open Data Initiative (GODI). The GODI initiative aims at developing an open data community by bringing together government, civil society organisations, developers and citizens to interact with one another on matter data. The end goal of the GODI initiative is the development of an open data portal to enhance transparency, accountability and efficiency in government and economic growth.

Samuel Benin, senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), focused on public expenditure as a key data tool for achieving sustainable development objectives. He delved deeper on how these data tools can be used to develop and implement better policies. From a farmer point of view, Emmanuel Mbewe, the head of the Africa chapter of the 6th Grain Corporation, shared with the participants the case study of the Farm Digitization and Farmers Registry ( FDFR), a project aiming to strengthen agricultural statistics for better-informed evidence-based interventions in farming activities.

And given that data needs to be communicated in an understandable manner, Winnie Kamau, the founder and president of the Association of Freelance Journalists in Kenya, underlined the role of data visualisation in helping communicate data. Tools such as maps, graphs, charts, infographics that could help audiences absorb and interpret data quickly and easily. Additionally, she stressed that data visualisation can also help reveal important trends and different variables such as environmental factors, geographic location, and socio-economic trends that can help in holding governments accountable for delivering better services. Take for instance this infographic by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri Bio-Tech Applications (ISAAA) on the state of biotech crops adoption in the world. At a glance, one is able to decipher tons of information unlike when the data is tabulated in forms and spreadsheets.

'Delivering from Data' session at the event Going the Last Mile: Accelerating Progress in Food Security and Nutrition — Brussels

Ana Brandusescu, GODAN's research and partnerships advisor, presented the work of GODAN on the agricultural Open Data Charter toolkit for helping governments put open data policy into practice and showed GODAN's progress in building a movement of over 300 organisations across the world committed to making data for agriculture and nutrition open.

Adriaan Bakker, project advisor of the Geodata for Agriculture and Water (G4AW) initiative of the Netherlands Space Office (NSO) showed how G4AW is turning satellite data into local farming advice. Through this scheme, NSO supports 30 projects utilising satellite data for applications in the agriculture and water sectors. He shared some of the work being done in Uganda, where Ben Addom, CTA's ICT4Ag programme coordinator is leading the Market-led, User-owned, ICT4Ag-Enabled Information Service (MUIIS) project to deliver farming advice by mobile-derived from satellite data.

Norbert Tuyishime, programme officer at the Eastern Africa Farmers Federation (EAFF) explained how their E-granary application is improving data collection and management for farmers' organisations resulting in empowerment and access to new markets. The farmers' membership database includes profiling of farms and details on crops and yields, and allows the group to sell collectively to markets they could otherwise not reach.

Finally, Chris Addison, CTA's senior programme coordinator for Data4Ag brought together some of the roles played and successful approaches adopted to make the best use of the opportunities of the current data revolution for agriculture. The lessons learnt from CTAs experience in running projects have included: innovating with the new tools available; understanding the context and local environment; ensuring cost-effectiveness; learning how to build complex partnerships and not being afraid to experiment to find the appropriate solutions.

The data actors

The speakers went on to illustrate the key actors in producing data for agriculture.

1. Data collectors

The data collectors have seen a revolution in the way data can be collected from mobile phones to satellite data and the use of drones. This was demonstrated in practice by E-granary, the software solution using SMS to register farmers data, shown by EAFF.

2. Data publishers and curators

The data publishers and curators have developed substantial portals to curate data sets and make them available. In Kigali, IFPRI presented their work with data portals such as Resakss and ASTI to present open data around the CAADP process and investment in agricultural research respectively.

3. Analysts and translators

The analysts and translators play a key role in interpreting the data and turning it into messages for farmers as well as into policy advice. During the Going the last mile meeting in Brussels, IFPRI and JRC showed how their analysis on stunting provided guidance for policy decisions.

4. Communicators

The communicators using infographics, visualisations and open data journalism are getting the message across. Winnie Kamau presented the challenges she faces as a journalist trying to use some of the open data sources made available online.

5. Agricultural actors: farmers, agribusiness, policy-makers, researchers

Finally, without some understanding from the agricultural actors themselves, data will remain unused and messages from evidence unheard. Joel Sam presented how the Ghanaian government is making more agricultural data open, while GODAN presented at both meetings showing the need for open science and data, and a need to engage governments to support making more data open.

Challenges facing Open Data

Listening to the discussions, the panellists articulated some of the challenges related to open data and open science as such:

1. Understanding

There is a lack of full understanding when it comes to the concept of open data and open science among key stakeholders in the agricultural sector. This, in turn, inhibits the full usability and potential of open data.

2. Cost

Each set of data comes at a cost and, currently, there are no serious efforts in terms of investments for generating data.

3. Commitment

It is one thing to commit to doing, but it is another to actually do it. By and large, commitments have been made on the use of open data and open data science, but more efforts need to be done to keep and fulfil the commitments made at all levels.

4. Sustainability

More often than not, open data suffers from a lack of sustainable financial models. The production and curation of open data comes with significant costs given the need and demand for appropriate technologies and skilled users.

Find out more

The 'Delivering from Data' session was part of the Going the Last Mile: Accelerating Progress in Food Security and Nutrition event, held in Brussels, Belgium. It was co-organised by IFPRI, CTA, the Directorate General for International Cooperation and Development of the European Commission (DG DEVCO), HarvestPlus and the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission (JRC).

See the event's photos

The 'Data, Information and Knowledge Systems' parallel session was co-organised by CTA, IFPRI and GODAN during the 7th Africa Agriculture Science Week organised by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA). As a result of the issues raised at the meeting, key recommendations were fed into a call to action which was tabled to the FARA General Assembly for adoption.

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