The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in partnership with the Global Data on Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN);the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) the World Bank and the Land Portal are inviting interested individuals to participate on the discussion on ICTs and Open Data in Agriculture and Nutrition.

This forum will take place from 19 June to 14 July 2017 simultaneously on the Land Portal and on the E-Agriculture Platform.

The forum is summarised below

The purpose 

The purpose of this discussion is to explore how information communication technologies (ICTs) can be used in facilitating the fair use of open data in agriculture and nutrition by farmers in general and especially by the more vulnerable among them such as family farmers, rural women and the youth engaged in farming as a livelihood. 

The context 

Most abject poverty in the world is concentrated in rural communities in developing countries and within them in small, family farmers. Technology is now opening up many new opportunities to improve the livelihoods of these farmers.

The use of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) have been demonstrated to effectively connect many family farmers to the much needed extension and advisory support as well as access to market related information.

ICTs also promise to improve farm level decision making, maximise the use of farm resources, improve the quality and safety of farm produce and to improve financial, and logistical services for farmers to market their produce.Increasing the availability and accessibility of data through ICTs and enabling their effective use, could also offer even more benefits for smallholder farmers and rural communities through more precise agriculture and market chain management of their produce.

Accessibility of open agricultural data has shown to be beneficial to farmers. For example, openly available weather data provide farmers with early warnings against adverse farming conditions; allows for precautions which include advice and warning for crop protection and also help in monitoring irrigation and in planning for adapting to adverse effects of climate change.

Making data more open, easily available and accessible on the whole accelerates innovation and generates economic and social capital. However, more open data can also harm and bring losses to some within a community, especially those who are economically, politically, socially and technologically weak and less powerful.

This online debate on the e-Agriculture platform will explore the cross roads between ICTs and issues around opening data in Agriculture and Nutrition and its effective use, with a focus on establishing what benefits and possible losses, can accrue to farmers, especially small holder family farmers in developing countries, if technology and open data are used conjunctively

Participation

  • The forum is open to individuals interested in this subject and who wish to participate. To contribute kindly create an account here.
  • You will need to log-on to the Land Portal in order to post contribution.

This forum will be moderated by

  • Ben Schaap, Research Lead, GODAN Secretariat
  • Chris Addison, Senior Programme Coordinator Knowledge Management, CTA
  • Ajit Maru, independent
  • Alice Van der Elstraeten, Advocacy and Capacity Development Division (OPC), FAO of the United Nations
  • Imma Subirats, Partnerships, Advocacy and Capacity Development Division (OPC), FAO of the United Nations
  • Thembani Malapela, Partnerships, Advocacy and Capacity Development Division (OPC), FAO of the United Nations

Subject Matter Experts

  1. Dr Suchith Anand - Researcher, GODAN Secretariat (United Kingdom)
  2. Boniface Akuku - Director, Information Management and Communication Technology, Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) (Kenya)
  3. Dr Prasad ARD - Professor and Head Documentation Research & Training Centre, Indian Statistical Institute (India)
  4. Henry Burgsteden - Agricultural Services and Digital Inclusion in Africa Project, FAO of the United Nations (Italy)
  5. Dra Amparo Ballivian - Poverty economist and a data innovations expert, World Bank (United States)
  6. Dr Justin Chisenga - Capacity Development Officer, FAO of the United Nations (Rome)
  7. Dr Sridhar Gutam - Senior Scientist (Plant Physiology), ICAR-Indian Institute of Horticultural Research (ICAR-IIHR) (India)
  8. Richard Mugata - Information Management Specialist, Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) (Kenya)
  9. Dr Ninomiya Seishi - Agroinformatics, Fieldinformatics, Biometrics Professor, University of Tokyo (Japan)
  10. Dr Muchiri Nyaggah - Executive Director, Local Development Research Institute (LDRI) (Kenya)
  11. Dr Vassilis Protonotarios - Researcher, Neuropublic (Greece)
  12. Dr Simone Sala - ICT-4- griculture and Environment Expert, FAO of the United Nations (Italy)
  13. Prof Muliaro Wafula - Director, ICT Centre of Excellence & Open Data -iCEOD, JKUAT (Kenya)
  14. Prof R Khosla - Founder & Past President of International Society of Precision Agriculture (ISPA)

Comments

What role can ICTs play in using Open Data in Agriculture and Nutrition for farmers, especially small holder family farmers, rural women and youth engaged in agricultural livelihoods?

Welcome everybody, to this global e-forum on ICTs and Open Data in Agriculture and Nutrition.

In the next three weeks, we are looking forward to exciting discussions – at the beginning of each week a guiding discussion question (setting the theme) will be posted on the forum and you are free to reply with your contributions.

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Sustainable Development Goal 2: Zero Hunger aims to achieve food security, sustainable agriculture, and improve nutrition. It is crucial to monitor the progress towards SDG2 with the correct information and data.

Many stakeholders within the agriculture and nutrition sectors have highlighted the importance of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) for sustainably increasing agricultural productivity and facilitating access to agricultural information and services by marginalized groups (mainly women and the youth) and poor communities.

ICTs may improve farm level decision making, maximise the use of farm resources, improve the quality and safety of farm produce and to improve financial, and logistical services for farmers to market their produce.

Increasing the availability and accessibility of data through ICTs and enabling their effective use, could also offer even more benefits for smallholder farmers and rural communities through more precise agriculture and market chain management of their produce.

Open data on the whole accelerates innovation and generates economic and social capital, but must not neglect those who are economically, politically, socially and technologically weak and less powerful. Data, like the Sustainable Development Goals, must help everyone equally.

This online debate on the e-Agriculture platform will explore the cross roads between ICTs and issues around open data in Agriculture and Nutrition and its effective use, with a focus on establishing what benefits and possible losses, can accrue to smallholder farmers.

Thank your Andre, l would set the discussion with my personal observations.

In a joint workshop of farmers, extension agents and scientists held recently held recently at Dantewada, in North Gujarat, India in which I participated, some farmers, most of them small holder family farmers growing spices such as cumin, anise and chillies, demanded that the University develop an application (app) on their “Smart” phones that enables farmers to record their data. They wanted to record their data because they wanted their produce to meet GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) standards and get certification needed for export such as to Europe.

I as an observer started examining this demand. Farmers wanted a data driven agricultural system because they wanted to participate to earn more in a globally competitive market and following GAP standards and producing the evidence for having met those standards was a must. They wanted to use the latest available information and communication technologies (ICTs) that enabled easy data flows (Smart phones and 4G which is now available across most of India). Their immediate use was of course to present evidence of following GAP so that they could be registered and participate in International markets. But why did the University not do this in advance before being made a demand intrigued me! It should have had a foresight of this need. I started discussing this issue with the University people.

The issues that came to my notice was that the University leadership was not fully aware of the need. The demand of the app had not been articulated by their extension staff who were focused more in solving agronomic concerns of farmers not the whole agri-business of farming. The extension agents were also “shy” of using data as they had little capacity or training in data driven agriculture. They also had a notion that farmers could not use “advanced” technologies. No one among the University people discussed with me how such data could be made use of in their research and for innovation both by University and the farmer community.

I even goaded the University in my remarks when I suggested that data for incidence and prevalence, since both the location and time data were available, of plant diseases and crops could also be gathered and a plant disease surveillance and monitoring system be developed that can over time be developed using other data into a disease forecasting system.

Farmers could be given more reliable diagnosis of diseases and pest in their plants and crops if they shared images along with the occurrence of a plant/crop related problem. And, of course the University needed an open data and information policy, strategy and capacities to implement it so that farmers and other users (including fertilizer and pesticide suppliers) could contribute and see the results and impact of data contributions. This also needed change in both the University’s and its people towards using ICTs in agriculture.

The purpose of this discussion is to explore how information communication technologies (ICTs) can be used in facilitating the fair use of open data in agriculture and nutrition by farmers in general and especially by the more vulnerable among them such as family farmers, rural women and the youth engaged in farming as a livelihood. The above story illustrates some of the issues that use of openly available data and information face in farming and agriculture.

I am sure others also have similar stories and insights.

Ajit Maru

Thank you Andre and also Ajit, both for the opening remarks and also for setting the tone for this discussion.

Dear participants, we warmly welcome you all and we gladly let you know the floor is open for your contributions. Looking forward to your submissions. I wish you, on behalf of e-Forum moderators, the best discussions.

What role can ICTs play in using Open Data in Agriculture and Nutrition for farmers, especially small holder family farmers, rural women and youth engaged in agricultural livelihoods?

Summary of contributions

Participants looked carefully at the different steps that are necessary to collect quality data, make them accessible and available in re-usable formats and free for everyone and how to make data available in a way that is useful and user-friendly for the end users, the farmers.

For each step of this process the use or development of appropriate ICT tools is crucial. Participants also pointed out how important it is to move away from the focus on farmers as users or “consumers” of Open Data, towards helping them to become active participants in the creation, exchange and transformation of Open Data within larger systems or value networks. Smart farming was proposed to be a good candidate to succeed in improving food production in developing countries through the integration of ICTs and making use of Open Data.

In reply to the question for the first week “what role can ICTs play in using Open Data in agriculture and nutrition for farmers?” we can take away the following points:

ICTs can be used for Data collection: data have to be acquired at the point of origin, which is the individual farm. Digital technologies such as applications are very powerful for this task

ICTs can be used to structure data collection more and better

ICTs can democratize information and ensure timely availability of important information

ICT can support the capacity building of extension agents, trainers and famers on Open Data

The following difficulties where brought forward in the discussion:

little capacity and training in data driven agriculture at all levels,

lack of awareness,

cost of data acquisition,

cost of generating pertinent information,

cost of dissemination of information and,

the quality of data.

Several recommendations were made and examples of the use of ICTs and Open Data were shared and will be bundled towardd the end of our forum.

To wrap up this week’s discussion find some snippets from the discussion below. We hope you will join us for the second part of the discussion in the 2nd week!

Some participants quotes

“There is no Open Data without ICTs. That is because on of the two defining characteristics of Open Data, machine readability is an ICT concept.” - Amparo Ballivian (World Bank)

"Data acquisition in agriculture is expensive, and because of this is mainly undertaken by governments, universities, NGO's, etc. and mostly with different purposes in mind. So most data gathered by this actors is not very useful at the farm level" - Albert J Brewer (Venezuela)

"Data acquisition is the first step in the whole data management and exploitation process and in this context, it should be carefully designed and implemented in all data-powered applications"- Vassilis Protonotarious (Greece)

“Generating data is not an issue anymore. The problem is to generate postitive change beyond access to data themselves. Too often institutions (from both the public and the private sector) think that releasing data publicly constitutes an achievement per se – though it is rather a building block for progress" -Simone Sala (FAO)

“If we want to enhance models and improve the quality of the tools we need to pool the data 

What is the potential for open data in agriculture and nutrition? Does open data benefit and damage farmers, especially smallholder family farmers, women and the youth in developing countries? What case studies can demonstrate the benefits and/or damages of the use of ICTs and Open Data?

Summary of contributions

The Global Open Data in Agriculture and Nutrition(GODAN) initiative together with the Open Data Institute(ODI) published a series of 14 case studies that show how open data can be useful in different stages of agricultural processes. These cases highlight specific ways in which open data can solve practical problems such as enabling more efficient and effective decision-making, fostering innovation that everyone can benefit from and driving organizational and sector change through transparency. Participants also shared some interesting developments in Nigeria,Kenya and India.

Boniface Akuku shared case study on the potential benefits of ICTs and Open Data through the case of Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASAL) in Kenya. He noted, "The case of ASAL Knowledge hub provides evidence to the fact that ICT and open data plays a significant role in AR4D particularly in the development of virtual open platforms such as “the ASAL knowledge hub”.

Vasilis Protonotarios stated “ we have all the components out there, such as the open data, the applications and ICT tools, the developers, the SMEs that work on data-powered solutions and of course the expected end users. What we need is to provide the mean for connecting all these different parts and stakeholders so that we will manage to come up with meaningful outcomes for the end users, providing added value to the open data and the efforts of those working with them”

Simone Sala from FAO brought an interesting example forward, showing how data can become a “value” to farmers to receive something else in return such as technical advice or access to credit.  As this kind of business models could rise in the future, there is a need to look at regulation of the environment and the strengthening of capacities of the farmers. 

Olivia Davis from GODAN pointed out some of the negative impacts in the use of ICTs and Open Data could have for agriculture and nutrition if long term sustainability is not taken into account and if the open data principle or the goal of equal impact does not exist. 

Chipo Msengezi from CTA shared the links to the 14 cases curated by GODAN and Open Data Institute (ODI)

Specific examples and cases 

The following cases and examples were shared by participants in the course of discussions in Week 1 and Week 2:-

GroVentures (Simone Sala)

Fit Uganda

eGranary Project

AGMARKNET

Edo AgriHub (EDAH)

The Citizens Club

The case of ASAL in Kenya

 Plantix.net

What investments are needed to reap open data benefits and what precautions are needed to prevent damage to vulnerable farmers from opening data for agriculture and nutrition?

Summary of contributions

In this section a number of interesting contributions were made to the forum. Dr Muchiri opened the address with a powerful contribution that steered much debate from the participants. He noted that there was need in investment by governments to (e-govt) unlock open data by the Ministries of Agriculture (MoA) and related ministries. There nature of investments were summarised into the following categories:-

  • Policy for data,
  • Financial Resourcing,
  • Infrastructure, and
  • Human Capital

Also a rights based approach was proposed to ensure that policy and legal frameworks support the development of citizen agency and protect farmers from harmful practices.

An emphasis was weighed in on organizational capacities of the institutions within these countries (Justin Chisenga; Sonigitu, Ekpe-Aji). Sonigitu requested to know more about the monitoring and evaluation of these organisations in meeting their respective mandates.Another user shared concerns of government in protecting the farmers through intellectual property regimes (Simon Wilkinson), and noted that these have contributed to restricting access to data. Potential benefits of open data were considered to be vastly outweighing the potential risks.

Amparo Ballivian, picked up this thread and agreed with the potential benefits of open data, she then further shared a number of investments needed to ensure that open data benefits the agricultural community. These include clear policy frameworks, software tools for open data and basic data management, data quality reviews and she cited the "Open Data in 60 Seconds" publication. The other cited investments were structured data(Demba)farmer\ s safety, and investments in infrastructure, training and long-term plans (Vassilis). The view of Henry Van Burgsteden was that governments and UN agencies need to make sure their data is more useful, usable and used, to facilitate open innovations, and these needed to be unlocked. Simon Wilkinson also noted the value of investment into open licenses, where he cited specifically Creative Commons licenses that allow ownerships and appropriate exploitation.

Selected quotes from contributors 

  • "think beyond open data to the broader macro environment in the public sector within which data originates in order to identify the priority areas to put investment guided by the local context.Take a rights-based approach to open data in order to ensure policy and legal frameworks support the development of citizen agency and protect farmers from harmful practices" - Muchiri
  • "I would also add investment in building organizational capacity. Among others, organizations, especially public institutions, should have clear mandates to open up the data; have internal processes in place, including clear guidelines for staff to facilitate generation and access to data; and establish collaboration and knowledge sharing mechanism/platforms " -Chisenga
  • "..restricting access to data, thereby stifling the very research required to develop benefits in the first place. The fisheries example in the article is a personal experience." -Simon
  • "In terms of risks, the only one I can think of is privacy risk and this pertains only to personal information. There are no risks in many of the data that are typically opened: meteorology, yields, prices and other market info, Ag property prices, land quality and access, Ag science data and many other datasets. All of these do not include information on individuals, so there are no privacy risks"- Amparo
  • "One of the most important investments that need to take place are national policies and legislation regarding the sharing of their data. Legislation needs to take into consideration existing work and aspects such as data ownership, data privacy, the sensitive nature of personal data, data sharing options, exploitation of data for commercial purposes, liability etc" - Vassilis
  • "Two balanced actions are needed; we need open data to become data as utility and big data to be treated as social good"- Henry

Specific resources shared in this week 

  1. Access and benefits sharing, in Aquaculture Asia. Volume XIV, No.2. April-June,2009 pp1-2.
  2. WorldBank. Open data in 60 Seconds. Available http://opendatatoolkit.worldbank.org/en/
  3. Comengip Journal. Available http://comengip.org/en/
  4. Frugal Innovation. Available https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/04/how-frugal-innovation-can-fight-off-inequality/
  5. Open Knowledge Foundation. Available https://okfn.org/about/vision-and-values/
  6. Open Standards, Open Data, Open Source and Open Innovation. Available http://digitalprinciples.org/