Dossier

Farm data: Serving smallholder farmers in a digital age

Increasing amounts of agricultural data are being produced at faster speeds, using a greater variety of technologies and innovations than ever before. But what is the value of information sharing for smallholders, and what are the risks?

André Laperrière of GODAN speaks about the value of big data and the role policymakers and donors have in making agricultural data widely available © GODAN
André Laperrière of GODAN speaks about the value of big data and the role policymakers and donors have in making agricultural data widely available © GODAN

Monday, 30 July 2018

The Executive Director of the Secretariat for Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) is André Laperrière. Here, he describes what GODAN have to do to raise awareness about the potential of agricultural data and how to get policymakers and donors on-board.

How can the use of big data bring value to farmers in terms of profitability, productivity and building resilience?

Big data is very important and thanks to research and many initiatives arising from both civil society and the private sector, a number of products have been developed that bring big data right into the hands of farmers, no matter where they are, as long as they have a connection to the internet. For those with direct access, there are specialised, user-friendly applications that rely heavily on big data, which allow people to use their phones to get general data like weather information or agricultural-related data, or to get involved with the source of the big data itself. For example, with pest infestations or plant diseases, the system typically allows the user to take a photo of the infestation with their phone and, within a matter of seconds, it comes back to the farmer with an identification and with suggestions about how to resolve their issue.

What are the challenges when using farmers' data and what influence do these challenges have on policymakers and donors?

In terms of the end user, there are many challenges to making good use of farmer’s data. One issue is that not all of the data that could be relevant to farmers is accessible to them. Sometimes in remote areas, being able to tap into online data can also be a challenge. The third level of challenges concerns privacy; a balance needs to be struck between how to tap into as much data as possible, whilst keeping in mind the privacy needs of the farmers. Data needs to be kept anonymous and it needs to protect the privacy of the individuals concerned. There has to be a win-win situation for farmers, as well as policymakers and donors.

Last year the Nairobi Declaration, initially signed by nine African governments and subsequently signed by two more, put nutrition and agricultural data into the public domain to combat food insecurity. What opportunities does this create?

Governments are now acknowledging that the data they compile about their citizens is basically funded by taxpayers and therefore belongs in the public domain; it is the property of their population. Secondly, they are also acknowledging that farmers can benefit a great deal from information that is compiled by researchers and academics, also known as higher-level data, which can help contribute towards higher yields and improved profitability. Weather data and market data help farmers buy their inputs at the cheapest possible prices and sell their produce at the best possible prices. Big companies are telling GODAN that they are constantly looking for new suppliers and data about the efficiency and resilience of small-scale producers to help them make informed business decisions. Data on all levels is very valuable to the value chain.

In the future, what needs to be done by GODAN and other institutions to raise awareness about the potential of agricultural data?

Our challenge at GODAN is to make sure that relevant data is available in a timely manner and in a format that works best for the farmer. For this purpose, we are working with more governments to implement policy roadmaps that will facilitate the dissemination of such data. We are also working with the private sector to help them contribute to this effort, because data stimulates business along the agricultural value chain. We also need to continue to expand our reach; we now have around 760 organisations and governments as partners around the world, who are increasingly aware of the importance of data and the need to make it more available to farmers. There are many more entities out there that need to be reached out to and brought on-board, so we need to pursue our advocacy efforts whilst continuing to work with governments to make sure that we do all of this in a sustainable manner.

Alex Miller

Other dossiers

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.