WASHINGTON, April 29, 2013 – Quality agricultural open data throughout the world, and particularly in impoverished countries in Africa, is needed to help stem hunger and bolster economies, panelists told a forum today at the G-8 International Conference on Open Data for Agriculture.
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack kicked off the conference by stressing that the sharing and dissemination of agricultural data, without restrictions, is essentially a lynchpin to global food security.
“The fact is, we are making new advancements in agricultural technology every day,” Vilsack said. “We’re doing amazing things in countries all around the world. But as important as the technological advancements themselves are, we also recognize that data in isolation is not as powerful as data shared.”
Vilsack said greater access to agricultural open data “will allow farmers and ranchers around the world to produce more, increase access to food, and ultimately provide ladders of opportunity with improved incomes for people in rural places around the world.”
At the forum, Antonio Limbau, deputy minister for agriculture in Mozambique, Africa, said demand for open data has been increasing and coming from a wide variety of stakeholders, policy makers and investors.
Limbau said Mozambique has a global strategy in place to develop the data with hopes to provide a framework to disseminate the data to farmers.
“We need to provide information to farmers to solve their problems,” Limbau said.
Stanley Wood, of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, stressed the importance of sharing information on current and future investments, and raising the efficiency of small farms’ research and development activities.
In particular, Wood said that in Congo and Somalia one “can drill down and get a general idea who is investing in what.”
Getting the farmers there to share the data can be challenging he said, and government officials should “require data access by funding it, and providing the tools to do it…an incentive to share.”
Another panelist, Sean Krepp, of Grameen AppLab in Uganda, said his group has been working with the private and public sector to reach the “poorest of the poor” in that country.
Krepp said his group has built a large, community knowledge program that helps get data “from poor households in the field to the government and back to the farmer.”
“If you want to be relevant in poverty, you have to be relevant in agriculture,” Krepp said. “The goal is to bridge the link between research and extension.”
Krepp described the Uganda program as a “mash-up” of local and global data.
He said the program, and others like it, can help a farmer get an earlier warning about potential pests and diseases that might be spreading in the area.
“This could save billions in crop losses,” Krepp said. “It’s about getting us from knowledge to action.”
In addition, Vilsack announced today that the USDA is launching a new virtual community for Food, Agriculture and Rural issues on its data-sharing web site – www.data.gov.
The site will serve to catalogue U.S. publicly available agricultural data, Vilsack said, and increase the ability of the public to easily find, download, and use datasets that are generated and held by the U.S. government.
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