Open Data: Transforming the Fight Against Global Hunger


In Othidhe, Kenya, a female farmer head of household has just received a SMS message from the Ministry of Agriculture’s farmer extension services, providing her with an 8 day weather forecast in her local language, which is predicting rain.

The forecast also comes with an important recommendation: with the soil wet from rains, and based on the time of year and a seasonal forecast, this weather-window is the optimal time to plant cassava. The farmer is able to make an informed, ‘climate-smart’ decision and plant a crop with the highest probability of a successful harvest, and provide food security for her family.

In Dakar, Bangladesh, a policy maker is comparing data from government funded rice intensification efforts throughout the Kishorganj District. The ability to visualize project data side by side shows him that efforts are being doubled in the South, with very little attention being paid to farming communities in the North. He is able to re-prioritize target areas, and scale up efforts in the North, before food insecurity occurs.

Continuing to feed a growing world population in the face of food insecurity, climate change, land degradation and increased rates of hunger is a daunting task. Though the number of malnourished people worldwide has stabilized since the early 1990’s, in the developing world 1 in 5 children under the age of five are still underweight (UNDP, Where do we stand). As the effects of climate change become a reality, farming communities around the world are increasingly vulnerable to the shock of extreme weather events and disruptions in food production, storage and transportation combine to exacerbate the sustainability of food systems. This increased vulnerability, however, comes at a time when improved technology makes critical information more accessible than ever before.

Last month, agricultural leaders gathered in Washington, D.C, for the G-8 International Conference on Open Data for Agriculture to promote accessible, relevant open data for the purpose of increasing global food security and agricultural production. Reports out of the conference reflect a consensus within the international development community on the value of an open data philosophy in international development efforts.

Since April, there has been an outpouring of datasets from leading development organizations, arming the international agricultural movement with vast amounts of crucial information; an important step towards a comprehensive and collaborative approach to agricultural development and food security.

The next vital step is to provide the tools to ensure that the information is comprehensible and easily applicable to end users. Policy makers, agricultural extension officers, researchers and farmers need an approachable interface to be able to integrate and visualize data to effectively transform this information into accessible, useable insight.

Some organizations are already looking beyond the spreadsheets, creating systems that harness these data to meet their particular demands. The ability to integrate data and visualize them in an interactive application is a key feature of the aWhere location intelligence platform.

aWhere is compiling a comprehensive data library within their location intelligence platform, allowing for contextual analysis of data from a variety of sources across location and time. The platform, which currently offers free access to weather data, will be opened up to users in the Fall of 2013, creating an interactive one-stop-shop to analyze, visualize and compare openly available data. Users can log in now to begin accessing weather data and be the first to utilize the platform as the new features become operational:

A couple of other examples of organizations who are utilizing open data in a similar way include:

  • Open Data for Africa: A project of the African Development Bank, Open Data for Africa brings interactive, highly visual access to country specific data for Africa
  • M. Farm: Utilizes market data to provide farmers with up-to-date marketplace information

Agriculture is a source of food and income for the world’s poor and a primary engine for economic growth. It offers untapped potential for mitigating climate change, reducing the risk of food insecurity, protecting biodiversity and lifting millions of people out of poverty. Creating an open data ecosystem to drive agricultural intensification worldwide offers a realistic and exciting opportunity for the international community to gain momentum in the global fight against hunger.

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