Capacities for Change, GFAR blog

Highlights of the international symposium on farmers’ access to data and full video recording


Issues around farmers’ rights to data, both in terms of access to data and ownership of data, are crucial to one of the key areas of activity of partners in GFAR: the opening of access to information systems for sharing, transforming and using agricultural knowledge, especially in light of GFAR’s overall approach to putting the smallholder farmer at the center of innovation and seeking change in their lives.
Partners in GFAR are already working together in this area under the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition initative (GODAN), while a more focused GFAR Collective Action on Farmers’ Data Rights is taking shape in these weeks, building on the interest raised by discussions promoted by GFAR in the last two years, two GODAN papers on ownership of open data and responsible data and the training course and symposium convened by GFAR in Centurion in November 2017.

In November 2017, GFAR convened a training course and a SYMPOSIUM ON FARMERS’ ACCESS TO DATA in Centurion, South Africa.

The events were co-funded by GODAN and CTA and were organized by ITOCA.


The symposium was held on 24 November 2017 and was organized around three panel sessions, each featuring a keynote speech by the panel chair, one or two introductory presentations and a panel discussion. The full program with the presentations is available in one document here.

In panel 1 on “Farmers and Data”Ajit Maru explored the paradigm shift occurring in agriculture making it data driven, information rich and knowledge intensive. He distinguished between use of data from the farm (precision farming) and data outside the farm (Digital agriculture, Agriculture 4.0) and discussed the implications of its sharing and exchange from the point of view of the smallholder farmer and the emergence of open and closed information chains. Finally, he indicated possible strategies to address the challenges, from International treaties and conventions to national and local policies, rules, regulations, norms, codes as well as institutional structures.

Three panelists joined Ajit Maru in the panel: Johannes Abbott from Farmboek, who presented the Farmboek information service for farmers; Alpha Mtakwa, farmer and Agricultural Officer at Sokoine University; and Charles Mbuthia from the Kenyan National Farmers Federation (KENAFF).

Video: Introduction and Panel 1 – Ajit Maru – “Data and Farmers”

In Panel 2 “Digital Agriculture – Challenges and Opportunities”, Dan Berne focused on the issues of grower adoption of using data-driven practices. What are the obstacles? What can the industry and other organizations do to increase adoption? Using Geoffrey Moore’s Technology Adoption Lifecycle, Dan Berne defined the requirements for data-driven solutions to “cross the chasm.” He also examined the role of data standards and addressed how to deal with data that are used in different geo-political contexts. Finally, he proposed a set of actions and guidelines that will help accelerate the adoption of data-driven agricultural solutions.

The paelists that joined Dan Berne in the panel are: Nico Kroese from the South African Weather Service, who presented the Rain 4 Africa project; Stephen Kalyesubula from iLabs@Mak Project of Makerere University, who presented on key data for farm management;  Thomas Kwaku Dzandu from Ahinsan Vegetable Farmer’s Association; and Nike Tinubu from the Nigeria Cassava Platform.

Video: Panel 2 – Dan Berne – “Digital Agriculture – Challenges and Opportunities”

In Panel 3 “Fair and equitable open data”, Jeremy de Beer explained how to create a fair and equitable system of benefit sharing around open data. After stating that we must acknowledge the access barriers that data ownership may raise, he recommended developing strategies to strengthen a data commons that engages all stakeholders. Jeremy de Beer first described the legal background of data ownership with the many different types of contracts and agreements and the way data ownership is easily given up, then he recommended possible strategies in the long term, like international treaties, and the shorter term, like inter-institutional cooperation ans social certification systems.

The panelists who joined Jeremy de Beer are: Juanita Chaves from GFAR, who presented on issues of farmers’ rights; Moses Odeke from ASARECA, who presented on the role of mobile phones and private/public infrastructures in enhancing access to data; Tereza Chelule from the Kenyan National Farmers Federation (KENAFF); and Michael Brobbey from the GODAN Secretariat.

Video: Panel 3 – Jeremy De Beer – “Fair and equitable open data” and closure

More information on the keynote speakers and panel chairs at the symposium:

Ajit Maru


Ajit Maru, Ph.D., grew up in Kenya, studied veterinary sciences in India and has served the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, National Dairy Development Board of India, International Service for National Agricultural Research, Dhirubhai Ambani Institute of Information and Communication Technology and the Global Forum on Agricultural Research/FAO  in his professional career spanning almost 40 years. He now follows his life long interest in understanding and improving the livelihoods of small holder farmers. At the moment he is working on developing a single window platform to support small holder farmers of Gujarat, India, in their farming and participation in markets.

Jeremy De Beer


Jeremy de Beer is a Full Professor of law at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law, where he creates and shapes ideas—about technology innovation, intellectual property, and global trade and development. As an award-winning professor recognized for exceptional contributions to research and law teaching, his current work helps solve practical challenges related to innovation in the digital economy, life science industries, and clean technology sector.

He is a co-founder and director of Open AIR, the Open African Innovation Research network, which connects dozens of multi-disciplinary researchers across African countries, Canada and elsewhere to scale up innovation by easing tensions between intellectual property and access to knowledge.

Dan Berne


Dan Berne is an independent consultant working at the nexus of water, food and energy. He leads the strategic planning work in the industrial agricultural irrigation market for the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (NEEA), a non-profit organization focused on energy efficiency. Working with the non-profit group AgGateway, Dan leads the effort to develop a set of data standards and formats to convert data for use in precision irrigation and other water management programs.  He is an expert in standards development, business processes, market development and customer

Out of the training course that preceded the symposium, a series of webinars is being produced, in order to make the content of the training available to everybody and maximize its impact: see here.

As an outcome of the symposium, the panel chairs and the trainers in the course that took place in the preceding days have written together a white paper on “Digital and data-driven agriculture – Enhancing Use of Data by Smallholders” that will be soon co-published by GFAR, GODAN and CTA. Stay tuned for the announcement!

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