Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition

This post contains excerpts from the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) blog .

The first Global Forum for Innovations in Agriculture (GFIA) , Africa Edition, was held on December 1-2 in Durban, South Africa.  The meeting brought together policymakers, private sector actors, farmers’ organizations, and international organizations to discuss innovations, investments, and policies for advancing Africa’s development through improvements in data collection to provide relevant and timely information for agricultural producers.

On December 2, Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) hosted a side event on Open Data for Agricultural Innovation .  The session discussed the challenges and opportunities presented by open data for agriculture and nutrition and featured input from a variety of stakeholders and open data platforms, including the Food Security Portal for Africa South of the Sahara.

Many of the benefits stemming from open data are hard to dispute. With increased access to reliable data, producers would have better access to market and price information and policymakers would have mechanisms by which to measure their progress on development indicators.

However, open data also presents some challenges.  For policymakers in particular, these challenges can be categorized in terms of the collection and use of the data.  Data collection should be internally driven to ensure that data collected actually meets the information needs of an individual country. However, external parties often drive data collection, and this could lead to the creation of data repositories that miss the indicators that are actually most important to a country.  In addition, funding statistical programs and nationwide data collection and quality control programs is not often aligned with political goals or timelines, as this investment will likely not see significant benefits during a political term (in comparison to infrastructure projects, for example).   Finally, there is some risk in terms of ethics if proper review of data collection efforts is not done.

From a use perspective, open data also presents a number of challenges.  The data is often provided in a number of formats and from a variety of sources, making the data time-consuming, or even impossible, to use in a meaningful way.  Even when data is available, it is sometimes too outdated by the time it is released to be of real use (due to limited capacity and support or for political reasons).  In addition, there is often insufficient quality control, and there remains a concern that otherwise incorrect data will be used in ways that can lead to misguided policies.  While an official quality control agency could hinder data sharing and is thus not recommended, there will be a need for improved quality controls and incentives to meet quality standards as open data becomes more common worldwide.


Intellectual property right issues may also hinder countries’, organizations’, and individuals’ desire to provide open data.  Mechanisms must be put in place to provide intellectual property rights in a way that does not hinder the sharing of relevant and important information and that also protects the work of farmers and researchers. Grace Chimwaza of the Information Training and Outreach Centre of Africa (ITOCA) noted “It is important to cite information ethically, and give credit to where it’s due.” Summer Allen of IFPRI concurred, saying, “People shouldn’t be afraid to have their data online and there should be rewards for better data.”

The session also highlighted the need for capacity strengthening across the board. Farmers need to be able to retain the rights to their data, and as such need additional training and investments in managing large amounts of data. Local and international journalists will also require additional training in order to better understand how to properly incorporate data into journalistic reports.

For a more complete summary of the session’s discussions, visit the GODAN blog .