Opening Agricultural Data: Going Beyond Access

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I recently participated in the GODAN Summit. What really struck me was that every speaker at the summit, especially those who spoke at the plenaries, recognised that “Open Data” is much more than opening access to data. They all stressed that it is about managing data from generation to effective use, about equity in its ownership, use and benefits from data use and about economic and social responsibility as generators, managers, custodians and users of data.

The three GODAN papers[i] released at the Summit significantly enlarged the dialogue on open data. There was the key recognition that in an agriculture that is increasingly become knowledge intensive and where decisions need to be made on accurate, reliable information, data is an invaluable resource. Within this recognition was also the fact that there exists severe resource inequality and that resource poor smallholder farmers are also the ones who have poor access to data they can benefit from and have limited, if any, capacity to effectively use the data for their farming and livelihoods. Availability and accessibility of data may have different meanings to different actors in agriculture when opening data is discussed.

Data from and about agricultural sector has the power not only to increase yields of smallholders farmers but also for them to plan and monitor their farming and access farm inputs and market their produce more efficiently and economically. It helps them conserve their already scarce resources, including time which they can use for many other activities that can contribute to their incomes, livelihoods and quality of life. Data can help these farmers seek assistance and support from their own communities and from those tasked to assist them in their development.

But, just putting up data on websites does not help these farmers. They need the Institutions, tools, knowledge, skills and technologies to generate, manage, share and effectively use this data. And equally important, they need the political, economic and social protection that their valuable data resources are not used to exploit them in an increasingly unequal information driven world.

For smallholder farmers to effectively generate, manage and use data a lot needs to be done. First of all they need to be aggregated such as through cooperatives and producer organisations. Why not data cooperatives, where these farmers can aggregate their data and have capacity to jointly analyse and interpret it and even share and market the data? With aggregated and useful data, there will be a need for “trust organizations”, since a large part of the potential of data is in the form of information which itself is intangible. The “trust” organisations should be able to negotiate the value of the data and of the information derived from it.

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Ajit Maru with participants in the GODAN Summit

For sharing of data there will be a need for “platforms”, very much like railway platforms and passengers, from where data like passengers can be mixed and integrated, received and shared.  These structures will need rules, regulations and standards. There is now an emerging need for new Institutions and structures that will not only regulate data flows but also implement mechanisms at community, national and international levels (such as treaties) that regulate the flow of agricultural data and enable equity and fairness in its use. And all this needs strong political intervention through national and international policies.

So, the question becomes: why should access to and use of data itself, which has as goal the improvement of all life, not be a human right?

[i] Responsible Data in Agriculture by Lindsay Ferris and Zara Rahman 2. Ownership of Open Data: Governance Options for Agriculture and Nutrition and 3. A Global Data Ecosystem for Agriculture and Food. Available for download here: http://www.godan.info/resources/research

 

Blogpost by Ajit Maru, GFAR Secretariat’s Senior Knowledge Officer (ajit.maru(at)fao.org), following his participation in the GODAN Summit held in New York City, 15-16 September 2016 

To learn more about what GFAR Secretariat and Partners in GFAR are doing to open doors to data, click here

Photo courtesy: 1-©opensource.com via Flickr; 2-Ajit Maru


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