Open data & Climate change – Agriculture trends for COP21

Partners of the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) initiative call for political leaders at COP21 to make the most obvious data open; “farmers need weather data in order to adapt to climate change.”


What is the role of open data for Agriculture?

We are living in an information age where data is increasingly becoming an integral part of our lives. In the future data will likely play a more central role in many aspects of society. People and machines become increasingly connected with the Internet.

Farming will be no exception to these trends.

A new generation of precision agriculture generates masses of useful data — if only we can find ways to share it meaningfully. Data will be instrumental in the support of concepts such as climate smart agriculture (CSA). To be able to achieve investments in managing climate risks, understanding and planning adaptation and exploring ways to reduce GHG emission there is a need for information and knowledge exchange.

Unfortunately, for many parts of the world information is lacking because it has never been collected in the first place, or because there are barriers to making it freely available.

Investments in sourcing critical data sets and in making them open will be instrumental in achieving the CSA goals. Freely available information, especially in the context of developing countries can enhance the evidence based decision making for farmers and policymakers for better adaptation and mitigation.

An example of activities to make data available is through the work by the Group on Earth Observation (GEO) on GEOSS.

blog_ipcc_1bObserved changes in average surface temperature 1901-2012, source: IPCC-AR5.

What datasets are likely to be useful for this approach?

For agriculture, the most valuable global dataset for farmers large and small is weather data. In the context of adaptation, historical data, operational forecasts and climate change projections are very important and currently they are lacking in many parts of the world.

The present day global weather forecast services found on smartphones are not very useful for most of the world’s rural areas as they don’t deliver all the appropriate variables and don’t have the accuracy and fine resolutions needed for agriculture applications.

But the need for data doesn’t stop there; many GODAN partners have also asked for data on soils, market price, land ownership, water quality and quantity, digital elevation, agricultural inputs, pests and diseases. These datasets if presented to them in the right way could stimulate farmers, private sector and policy makers to make better decisions and investments and help in creating more efficient markets for agricultural value chains.

Climate Change and Agriculture

Since the release of the First Assessment Report on climate change in 1990 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has used shared data to drive the scientific proof for climate change and its repercussions for society. Members of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) have worked on sharing data and interoperability in order to improve the shared understanding of climate change and create general consensus on this subject.

This work is still ongoing to provide society with the best knowledge about climate change but it is clear that the IPCC has already succeeded in delivering a firm scientific foundation for policy makers and hopefully for politics too. Without the willingness of contributing organisations to share data among each other it would not have been possible to produce the assessment reports we have. Increasingly climate change scientists have been using open data to do their work as more data comes available through open data portals.

Since 1990, our understanding of adaptation has become more mature as the public realizes that, even if we succeed in dramatically reduce the amount of greenhouse gases (GHG), we will still face climate change from our past emissions.

This notion urges our generation to think about vulnerabilities and the impact of climate change on society.

Vulnerability of farmers

At COP20 in Lima, Peru in 2014, Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU) President Theo de Jager stated:

No constituency is more vulnerable to climate change than the world’s farmers…

Farming is currently part of the problem as well as a source for potential solutions; one Third of the world’s GHG emissions come from agriculture, the world, and especially rural areas and food production systems faces a huge challenge to adapt to climate change.

CSA approaches can help because they aim to invest more in managing climate risks, understanding and planning adaptation and exploring ways to reduce GHG emission. A nice example of a tool that can be used in this approach is the Agro Climate Calendar to assess the risks of farming practices subject to extreme weather and climate induced pests and diseases.

GODAN’s goal for COP21:

  • To share stories about how open data driven applications can help climate change adaptation and mitigation, and to seek out other people’s stories.
  • To support CSA approaches that help us achieve the Global Goals (SDGs), support farmers and rural populations.

What defines CSA?  


“Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) is an integrative approach to address these interlinked challenges of food security and climate change, that explicitly aims for three objectives:

  1. Sustainably increasing agricultural productivity, to support equitable increases in farm incomes, food security and development;
  2. Adapting and building resilience of agricultural and food security systems to climate change at multiple levels; and
  3. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture (including crops, livestock and fisheries).

mdamgnpoasdmOverview of how climate and other factors influence food security through production aspects and others aspects of food systems. From AR5 WGII. The thickness of the red lines is indicative of the relative availability of refereed publications on the two elements used in AR5 WGII.

Index Based Livestock Insurance (IBLI)

To protect livestock keepers from drought related asset losses insurance is a good coping and adaptation strategy. Satellite based information on crop status (NDVI) is used to assess the availability of fodder crops in dry areas of Eastern Africa for livestock farmers. This data is combined with livestock mortality data from the Kenya Arid Lands Management project to predict livestock deaths against which livestock herders can insure themselves. This livestock insurance service is initiated by a consortium of public, private and non-profit partners. The consortium pursued a comprehensive research agenda aimed at designing, developing and implementing market mediated index-based insurance.

josjfpamFarmer in East Africa who has insured his herd with IBLI. Image courtesy from IBLI.

This is a shorter version of a story with more case study examples and background by Ben Schaap “Climate Smart Agriculture and Open Data at COP21“.

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