How open data can improve agriculture

By boosting collaborative research and eliminating duplication, open data can lend a hand to the cause of better nutrition and more efficient farming, says a new study.

 Shutterstock image (by Humannet): rice paddy.

(Image: Humannet / Shutterstock)

What: A report from the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition initiative on the impact open data will have on agriculture, “How Can We Improve Agriculture, Food and Nutrition With Open Data?”

Why: Global food demand will “nearly double” by 2050. GODAN’s report argues that this problem can be solved through open data leading to more efficient decision making, fostering innovation, and increasing transparency.

Open data leads to lower costs regarding data access both directly and indirectly. Directly, costly subscription fees are avoided. Indirectly, the time it takes to locate and analyze data is reduced. Through lowered costs and the wider availability of data, better informed decisions are able to be made. Take, for example, the complex problem of optimizing cultivation practices. AWhere is an app that tackles this by notifying small farmers of relevant conditions and is compiled using open data.

Opening research data leads to “ongoing, collaborative research, while eliminating unnecessary and costly duplication of efforts”, thereby pushing innovation, according to the study. AgTrials compiled and opened data concerning cultivar research for crop varieties, resulting in region-specific crop models to define breeding programs. (A cultivar plant is one that has been produced in cultivation by selective breeding.) This is the kind of practice that encourages collaboration between “governments, businesses, NGOs, and individuals” and consequently improves agricultural practices, the study said.

Transparency is becoming more prevalent, as evidenced by the fact that “major funding bodies of agri-food and nutrition research are making open access mandatory, requiring research outcomes and research data produced through their funding to be made publicly available,” the study said. Transparency can also make allocation of resources more efficient, as was the case when FUNDAR’s analysis of Mexico’s farm subsidies concluded that 57 percent of funds went to the wealthiest 10 percent of farmers, which led to increased eligibility requirements for the subsidies.

Verbatim: “Open data is helping, and can continue to help, the agriculture and nutrition sector meet the challenge of sustainably feeding the world in the context of population growth, climate change and volatile markets.”

Full Report: Read the whole report here.