Open Data for Agriculture

By Marshall Matz

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



Later this month, on April 29 and 30th, the G-8 will host an important meeting on Open Data for Agriculture. The Department of Agriculture is organizing the meeting on behalf of the United States for members of the G-8 and interested parties.  I bet that doesn't sound very exciting.  Wrong!  This meeting can have a major impact on global food security. 

The meeting grows directly out of the G-8 Summit hosted by President Obama last year at Camp David and the commitment they made to a new Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition.  As a part of the Camp David Declaration, the G-8 agreed to “take to scale new technologies and other innovations that can increase sustainable agricultural productivity, and reduce the risk borne by vulnerable economies and communities” in Africa.  

A fact sheet was issued by White House at the time of the Declaration.  In an effort to scale up new technologies, the G-8 agreed to:

•  “Launch a Technology Platform with the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa and other partners in consultation with the Tropical Agriculture Platform and the Coalition for African Rice Development (CARD) initiative that will assess the availability of improved technologies for food commodities critical to achieve sustainable yield, resilience, and nutrition impacts, identify current constraints to adoption, and create a roadmap to accelerate adoption of technologies.

•  “Launch the Scaling Seeds and Other Technologies Partnership, housed at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa to strengthen the seed sector and promote the commercialization, distribution and adoption of key technologies improved seed varieties, and other technologies prioritized by the Technology Platform to meet established goals in partner countries.

• “Share relevant agricultural data available from G-8 countries with African partners and convene an international conference on Open Data for Agriculture, to develop options for the establishment of a global platform to make reliable agricultural and related information available to African farmers, researchers and policymakers, taking into account existing agricultural data systems.”

 The goal of the Open Data for Agriculture meeting, according to USDA “is to get a commitment and action from 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.”

Secretary Tom Vilsack will lead the US Delegation.  Under Secretary Dr. Catherine Woteki, USDA's Chief Scientist, said “The G-8 International Conference on Open Data for Agriculture will bring together many forward-thinking entrepreneurs and innovators, along with policy makers and thought leaders.  There, we will have the opportunity to discuss how open agricultural data increases food security, improves access to research for developing countries and provides new opportunities for private/public partnerships.”

All innovators and private sector partners are invited to participate in the Open Data for Agriculture meeting and to help define the scope of the discussion.  Hopefully, the meeting will facilitate the transfer of scientific research and information in a broad range of areas from best agricultural practices, to research, biotechnology, irrigation, extension services and applied technology. 

Precision agriculture technology can increase productivity including the productivity of smallholder farmers.  Wireless technology, with GPS, may be one of the few areas where Africa is ahead of the United States.  Africa has jumped over wires.  Farmers who don't have a tractor or an irrigation system have cell phones and smart phones.  In the most remote rural areas,   communication is immediate and very clear.


The Open Data for Agriculture meeting can be critical to stimulating agriculture innovation and sharing information through a broad cross section of disciplines.  It is also important that the G- 8 recognize it is much easier to share information and data with Africa if the G-8 is all on the same page.  Synchronization of data and the regulatory systems among the G-8 countries would greatly facilitate the transfer of information from the G-8 to Africa and other developing regions of the globe.  Leadership on synchronization must come from the United States given our unique position in agriculture production and trade.  It should be on the agenda at both the Open Data meeting and at the G-8 meeting in Ireland this year.

Last year, the United Nations recognized that “new green biotechnologies can play a valuable role in enabling farmers to adapt to climate change, improve resistance to pests, restore soil fertility and contribute to the diversification of the rural economy.”  (Resilient People, Resilient Planet, report of the UN Secretary General's Panel on Global Sustainability)  And just last month, the 2013 Economic Report of the President included a chapter on agriculture that noted “new seeds are less susceptible to disease and produce higher yields, new tractors are guided by satellites and spread fertilizer optimally across the field, and animals' diets are optimally calibrated to grow larger animals with less feed.”

 

Let's build on the UN report and President Obama's Economic Report and fully embrace science based agricultural innovation. It is time to move beyond politics and let science achieve global food security.  That includes here in the United States as well as in Europe and around the world.

On the ground in Africa, the leader is the Alliance for the Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), chaired by the Kofi Annan, the former Secretary General of the United Nations.  AGRA is working with smallholder farmers on soils, seeds, extension services, and market development.  There are now over 15,000 local agro-dealers in rural communities selling hybrid seeds and nutrients while also providing extension services. AGRA is also working with the African Union and the breadbasket countries to establish the public policy necessary to support agriculture development and trade within Africa. 

In short, to achieve global food security Africa must become food secure and a net exporter of food. That is not as difficult as it might seem. As current yields are so low, new seeds, micro- doses of nutrients, and improved management can easily double and triple yields in a single growing season.  The transfer of data and information, extension services through open data communications can quickly increase yields. 

Most of the underutilized agriculture acres in the world are in Africa.  Africa is the key to global food security and Open Data for Agriculture can make the difference.  The G-8's effort in Africa is not an act of charity.  It is a pragmatic realization that the entire world needs Africa's agricultural production in order to feed the 9 billion people expected by 2050.

See you on April 29th.  It couldn't be more exciting.

 

Marshall Matz served as Counsel to the Senate Agriculture Committee and founded Friends of the World Food Program-USA.  He specializes on agriculture policy at OFW Law.    mmatz@ofwlaw.com   

 

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