Open data and food security

| 7th June 2019
Open Data can play a critical role in helping achieve the sustainable development goals proposed by the United Nations.


There is the increasing urgency for innovation across the agricultural sector. If successful, this will not only address food security issues and climate change, but will enable the increase of food availability across the globe. 

The need for innovating comes at a time when major obstacles - including climate change, land degradation and loss of agricultural land, due to the expansion of cities - are already making it difficult to maintain our current food production, particularly with the threat of an agricultural crisis very much a reality across the globe.

Crippling costs, poor weather conditions and disease outbreaks have hit landscapes, farmers and businesses hard over the years and the potential impacts can be tenfold. These issues are not only prevalent in the world’s more vulnerable regions, but also in the most developed nations. 

Improving practice 

The UK has recently suffered from record high temperatures, and is also in the midst of an uncertain trading future as Brexit looms. In Africa, where water conservation issues, malnutrition and hunger are still pertinent, climate change is one of the principal causes.

The agricultural industry is a volatile one, from either ends of the globe. We are continuing to experience the struggle to meet the growing demands of the consumer, to combat the fluctuation in supply, the instability of markets and the lack of investment in the agriculture industry in many nations.

Today, countries across the globe have achieved industrial and technological revolution, with achievements and decisions being made based on data driven insights. Open Data has developed alongside these technological advancements, but has rarely been considered in its potential to tackle food issues such as food insecurity.

Not only can Open Data allow the wider access to historical and usable data that would enable farmers to develop their farming and production practices for the better, but also its efficiency in monitoring water supplies, anticipating changes in the weather and also sharing crucial information across country borders so that nations can learn best practices from each other and prosper.

Through the use of satellite data, remote sensing and mapping, farmers, businesses and consumers in the agricultural industry can harness the most relevant and useful information to improve and adapt practices, make better decisions and ensure sustainability.

Increasing access

Increasing access to a wider net of data will trigger innovations and will bring both agriculture and nutrition to the next, higher level of impact, improving efficiency, yields, competitiveness, tackle issues related to climate change and ultimately increasing food security across the world. 

For example, in Africa, initiatives like the Ghana-based organisation, Esoko, illustrate the benefits of Open Data access through mobile technology. The organisation allows farmers and their buyers to access data collected on a national scale through shared feedback. This data consists of anything from pricing of products, to market data, in order to encourage fairer pricing.

Through this initiative, the technology solution TradeNet was born. The solution collects data obtained through existing channels, such as weather data channels, along with other basic technology, and alert customers and farmers with relevant and daily updates through SMS.

Those using the technology can both collect and input data, such as the selling price of basic commodities and the prices of seeds and fertilizers. Thus, the farmers can determine their input costs, increasing their selling profit by utilizing the information made available to them.

This self-sustainable model, combining data from farmers, customers, markets, dealers and phone companies on an open system, allowed the cross-fertilization of relevant and useful industry data to benefit the livelihoods of thousands in not only the immediate community, but to the wider nation. To date, over 350,000 people have joined the Esoko platform in over 10 countries in Africa and it is still growing. 

Collaboration and accountability

With increased Open Data access, the potential to combat not only agricultural issues, but also increase food security and enable innovations to tackle climate change will rise significantly. This would include the increased access to data relating to tracked temperate changes, real-time biodiversity logging, deforestation mapping and also logging fluctuations in ocean levels across the globe.

Having access to such relevant data will allow for innovation, collaboration and create a sense of accountability through hard hitting statistics, will accelerate the progress in tackling such issues. 

There is still a long way to go before Open Data access is globally accepted and utilised. The drive and determination for it to be a success needs to be welcomed by respective governments and organisations across the globe and pushed to the top of the agenda. 

A good start would be the establishment of smart open data policies through cross-collaboration between all relevant bodies, whether in public/ private sector organisations or government to share relevant information for implementation and planning.

This open-access environment will enable farmers and food producers to make more informed decisions and help ensure smart practices in food production. With improved Open Data access, farmers will be at a position to access vital information such as historic weather patterns, soil information and food consumption data to maximize crop production and improve the livelihoods of thousands.

Developing economies

Much like a smart investment banker, a farmer can also be better equipped and prepared to handle risk – by pricing in factors such as drought or floods – and subsequently adjust his farming cycle.

With the correct approach and implementation methods in place, Open Data can have a high economic and social return on investment for countries all over the globe and in all stages of development.

Areas in Africa, Latin America, Asia and Europe have already demonstrated how increased access to data can help develop economies and farming practices, taking significant strides towards achieving sustainability and taking one step solving the hunger crisis. 

This Author

André Laperrière joined the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) initiative as its first executive director, in September 2015. During his career, Mr. Laperrière has led/managed numerous projects on behalf of large Private Corporations and subsequently, within the United Nations and the World Bank.


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