At the inaugural Africa Open Data Conference (AODC), which took place in Dar es Salaam between 2nd – 5th September, GODAN brought partners and interested participants together for the first major opportunity to discuss open data for agriculture and nutrition on the African continent. Although open data has been steadily rising up the global agenda, the conversations at AODC represent the early days of a continent-wide open data conversation. Through GODAN sessions at the conference, partners expressed their desire to learn more from each other, and to forge shared agendas and approaches for open data.
GODAN organized one of the five ‘Open Data @ Work’ sessions at AODC bringing together five speakers to present use cases for open data on the African continent. The panellists were challenged to answer questions raised by our moderator Savita Bailur of the Web Foundation. The presentations provided good background material and a solid foundation for a more in-depth panel discussion.
Connecting with farmers: presentations and key messages
A number of our speakers focused in on the question of how open data can be used to make a difference at the grass root level. Musa Jega of EASTC emphasized the importance of “reliable and timely agricultural information, making it available at all time, and adequately disseminated to all categories of users”. Kiringai Makau from the Government of Kenya said that “farmers own the competitive tail-end of data”, highlighting the importance of farmers as data producers as well as users.
For Maryia Nakirya of BROSDI “Open Data is more relevant to farmers if they are part of the processing procedures”. This point was reiterated by Nkechi Okwuone from Edo State, Nigeria, who added that “we must meet the farmers interest” and that there are still challenges ahead. These points from both Nkechi and Maryia complemented the message of Fatma Ben Rejeb (PAFO) who asked for more participatory approaches and an enhanced role for farmers organisations. You can find full presentations from our speakers here.
“farmers own the competitive tail end of data” – Kiringai Kamau
Digging deeper: panel discussions
As an introduction to the following panel session Liz Carolan presented the GODAN/ODI Discussion paper ‘How can we improve agriculture, food and nutrition with open data?’ launched in Ottawa earlier this year. She also briefly presented the responses the discussion paper has generated so far, and invited all attendees to submit ideas for solution-focused open data initiative for agriculture and nutrition.
The following panel discussion surfaced a number of key themes.
Dr. Savita Bailur (Web Foundation) kicking off the panel discussion. From left to right: Casper Sitemba (Government of Kenya), Ednah Karamagi (BROSDI), Matthew McNaughton (SlashRoots), Carlos Quiros (ILRI), Dr. Khadija Y. Malima (COSTECH), Dr. Theo de Jager (PAFO/SACAU).
Nutrition data gaps
“Can you give me examples of important datasets?” asked Savita Bailur to Dr. Khadija Yahya-Malima (COSTECH, Tanzania). Being a nutrition expert Dr. Khadija Yahya-Malima made a strong point. She said that “People don’t die of hunger, rather from acute malnutrition and related diseases”. Open data for nutrition should be tailored for the right people and the data should be easy accessible. Ednah Karamagi from BROSDI (Uganda) completely agreed with this statement and added that for better application of knowledge on nutrition we must not lose sight of cultural barriers that need to be overcome before local communities can fully use the potential of open data in the nutrition sector.
Potential of Open Data to African Farmers
Coming from the private sector and being a farmer himself Theo de Jager, President of the Pan African Farmers Organisation (PAFO) was very clear about the most useful datasets for farmers. “The top three datasets used are weather data, market price data, and agricultural inputs data” he said. “We know these key datasets could be used much better in Africa. “Farmers look at data for weather, market & price information – in that order of importance.”
“Farmers look at data for weather, market & price information – in that order of importance” – Theo de Jager.
“A modern farmer uses a lot of data. The mechanisation of farming introduce a tremendous amount of data. Precision farming increases yields. And open data is the precision in precision farming.” said Theo de Jager. “To increase yields farmers need to put away the hoe and put a smartphone into their hands”.
From a research perspective the panellists agreed that key datasets need to be available for farmers to make the right decisions and investments. “We learned that agricultural research institutions have massive datasets available with potentially great impact but that they are not currently used” said Carlos Quiros from the International Livestock Research Institute (CGIAR-ILRI). If farmers want to make better decisions private-public sector collaboration is needed including responsible use of data for each actor involved. In the case of Kenya the government puts the data revolution at the heart of agricultural transformation in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. However, there are still challenges, “we need to make the data accessible, not only on a national level but also on a subnational level, and there are still challenges ahead” said Casper Sitemba (Government of Kenya).
“If farmers want to make better decisions private-public sector collaboration is needed including responsible use of data for each actor involved” – Carlos Quiros
Many of the discussions connected with key themes from the blogpost “Four key issues to tackle at Africa Open Data Conference” published in the week before AODC. However, it was clear from the discussions that we’re just at the early stages of tackling these issues. GODAN partners bring together a wealth of insights and experience, but there is much more work to be done together to build on shared learning to address critical questions on securing open data impacts.
The GODAN Secretariat sponsored twenty-three participants from ten countries: Kenya, Gambia, Uganda, South Africa, Tunisia, Ghana, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, and Jamaica. The participants represented farmer’s cooperatives, government agencies, NGOs, health sector, private sector, and research institutions.