Open Data’s Effect on Food Security

By Jeremy de Beer, Jeremiah Baarbé, and Sarah Thuswaldner

Agricultural data is a vital resource in the effort to address food insecurity. This data is used across the food-production chain. For example, farmers rely on agricultural data to decide when to plant crops, scientists use data to conduct research on pests and design disease resistant plants, and governments make policy based on land use data. As the value of agricultural data is understood, there is a growing call for governments and firms to open their agricultural data.

Open data is data that anyone can access, use, or share. Open agricultural data has the potential to address food insecurity by making it easier for farmers and other stakeholders to access and use the data they need. Open data also builds trust and fosters collaboration among stakeholders that can lead to new discoveries to address the problems of feeding a growing population.

A network of partnerships is growing around agricultural data research. The Open African Innovation Research (Open AIR) network is researching open agricultural data in partnership with the Plant Phenotyping and Imaging Research Centre (P2IRC) and the Global Institute for Food Security (GIFS). This research builds on a partnership with the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) and they are exploring partnerships with Open Data for Development (OD4D) and other open data organizations.

Over the past year, Open AIR has been participating in leading forums to work, network, learn, and present on these issues. On June 21, Open AIR Director Jeremy de Beer presented on Open Data Ownership at the P2IRC symposium in Saskatchewan. Research Fellow Meghan Blom represented Open AIR at the symposium last year. Research Fellow Jeremiah Baarbé recently attended the Ministerial Conference on Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition in Nairobi, Kenya and the 2016 International Open Data Conference in Madrid.

Open AIR researchers has already published two works on open agricultural data. Published in partnership with GODAN, “Ownership of Open Data” describes how intellectual property law defines ownership rights in data. Firms that collect data own the rights to data, which is a major factor in the power dynamics of open data. In July, Jeremiah Baarbé and Jeremy de Beer will be presenting “A Data Commons for Food Security” at the 2017 International Association for the Study of the Commons conference in Utrecht, The Netherlands. The paper proposes a licensing model that allows farmers to benefit from the datasets to which they contribute. The license supports SME data collectors, who need sophisticated legal tools; contributors, who need engagement, privacy, control, and benefit sharing; and consumers who need open access. this paper

Feature image by Scott Bauer, USDA ARS [Public domain], Wikimedia Commons.