How can Open Data help to solve long-standing problems in agriculture and nutrition?

How can Open Data help to solve long-standing problems in agriculture and nutrition?

BY Andrea Powell,  CIO, CABI

Good question. The planet’s resources are under growing pressure to provide food, fuel, fodder and fibre for a rapidly increasing global population, while at the same time adapting to climate change, the threat from invasive species and water shortages. You could say we are careering headlong towards the perfect storm and that unless we come up with innovative ways to ensure sustainable food security, we are heading for Armageddon. The ambitious agenda set out recently in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (see requires unprecedented global collaboration and problem-solving, and calls for systems of data gathering and performance monitoring to ensure that all interventions are based on the best available evidence.

Fortunately, technology can play an important part in realising the vision of the SDGs: a global data infrastructure is emerging and, with innovative business models and international political will, now is the time to invest in open data-driven solutions in agriculture and nutrition.

The GODAN (Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition) initiative ( was launched at a G8 international conference in 2013, calling upon nations and relevant stakeholders to promote policies and invest in projects that open access to publicly funded global agriculturally relevant data streams, making such data readily accessible to users in Africa and world-wide, and ultimately supporting a sustainable increase in food security in developed and developing countries.

Many nations signed up to the GODAN Statement of Purpose, and during 2014 they agreed to set up an international Secretariat, now hosted by my organization, CABI, which would work to advocate for Open Data, provide case studies and evidence of the effectiveness of Open Data and coordinate working groups to address specific problems in agriculture and nutrition. A key challenge would be encouraging the participation of the private sector by articulating tangible bottom-line incentives, and advising on the type of technical skills that would be required, not only to make data available in the first place, but also to develop solutions and applications with practical and tangible value.

Since its inception, the GODAN Secretariat has organised a number of events designed to raise the profile of Open Data and to convince more countries, public and private sector bodies to join as supporting members. Seminars at the African Open Data conference in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and at the Open Government Partnership Global Summit in Mexico, (amongst others) have helped to increase membership to over 160 entities and to stimulate the debate about how to share data while also respecting intellectual property rights and commercial interests.

But the initiative will only succeed if, collectively, the partners are able to demonstrate tangibly how Open Data will solve intractable problems in food production and security, and if the capacity to work with Open Data grows and flourishes in emerging economies. The early signs are good – see the Case Studies contained in the White Paper published on the GODAN website – but only time will tell if Open Data initiatives are going to make a genuine difference.

7th December 2015

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