Knowledge for better food systems

Improving agriculture and nutrition with open data

This report argues that open data can be a powerful tool to solve problems around the world in agriculture and nutrition: from drought, pests and diseases, to food security and food safety.

This short think piece takes as its departure the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (see recent FCRN blogs on the subject here and here) and the challenge of delivering sustainable agriculture and food security and feeding a growing global population. It provides case studies on the need to collect, curate and publish data to improve subsidies, land governance, infrastructure and collaboration.

Open data is defined here as data that is accessible (which usually means published on the web) available (in a machine-readable format) and data that has a licence that permits anyone to access, use and share it. 

The report discusses three specific ways that open data can help solve practical problems in the agriculture and nutrition sectors:

·       Enabling more efficient and effective decision making

·       Fostering innovation that everyone can benefit from

·       Driving organisational and sector change through transparency

It presents 14 use cases showing how open data can be useful in different stages of agriculture, food production and consumption.  These include vegetation maps, information databased on plant pests and diseases, drought visualisations and data on crop breeding trials.

The report notes that although the amount of data openly available is constantly increasing, there are still challenges related to data management, licensing, interoperability and exploitation. There is a need to evolve policies, practices and ethics around closed, shared, and open data.

It sets out five steps for pursuing solution-focused open data initiatives for agriculture and nutrition:

  1. Engage with the growing open data community, including key problem owners and experts at GODAN, to identify the challenges that open data can help solve.
  2. Build open data strategies and projects with a focus on finding solutions to these agriculture and nutrition problems.
  3. Develop the infrastructure, assets and capacities for open data in relevant organisations and networks.
  4. Use open data and support users of relevant data.
  5. Learn through ongoing evaluation, reflection and sharing to ensure we can all continue to improve our practice. GODAN provides a forum for shared learning, through creating case studies, mapping partner activity, and bringing partners together. Advocate for the data you use from others, and that you produce, to be provided as part of the commons of open data in order to help stimulate network learning.

Read the full report here and read more about the GODAN Global Open Data in Agriculture and Nutrition initiative – a network which focuses on building high-level policy, and public and private institutional support for open data in agriculture and nutrition.

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While some of the food system challenges facing humanity are local, in an interconnected world, adopting a global perspective is essential. Many environmental issues, such as climate change, need supranational commitments and action to be addressed effectively. Due to ever increasing global trade flows, prices of commodities are connected through space; a drought in Romania may thus increase the price of wheat in Zimbabwe.

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