Takeaways from open data panel at GFIA

Takeaways from open data panel at GFIA

The GFIA panel session, organised by GODAN (with GFAR and CTA), explored open data for agricultural innovation by linking different actors of the open data value chain together.

Data on all aspects of agriculture increases every year. Yet often this data sits in government files and company offices, locked-up away from innovators. Open data brings a different approach: accessible and reusable data – a shared and renewable innovation resource.


This sessions explored the challenges and potential benefits of open data, building on the discussion from the agriculture track at the 2015 Africa Open Data Conference.

Valeria Pesce (GFAR) moderated the panel and began with questions about challenges and ended with questions on potential benefits of open data.

Gracian Chimwaza (ITOCA) addressed the challenges  of using open data for training and technical advocacy. The biggest challenge remains the decision we make about what to keep private and what to make open. We know that the more we can open up, the more synergies we can create, the more benefits we have; there is no disagreement on the potential benefits.

He noted that there is a “need for advocacy and dataset awareness of what’s out there. It is important to cite information ethically, and give credit to where it’s due, and we need to work with students and youth to ‘the copy and paste syndrome is always an issue.’ We need to make informed decisions with timely information.”

Summer Allen (IFPRI) discussed the main challenges she faces in her research with IFPRI’s Food Security Portals and the steps needed to take to overcome them. “We need to think about the institutions that are building this. We need to make sure that the farmers are protected, as researchers.”

She further noted that researchers should be certain that people feel comfortable sharing their data. Open data needs to be driven by internal processes. Trying to get open data driven internal processes are hard to change because it wont necessarily align with political commitments – global commitment of governments putting more money into improving statistical offices.

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Allen echoed Chimwaza: “In order to have data standards we need local capacity. As data becomes more available, we have to find a way to review data. On top of this, people shouldn’t be afraid to have their data online and that there should be rewards for better data.

Allen aptly concluded that “we need to be clear about the challenges so we understand how to overcome them. We are advancing science and we are advancing knowledge, not just opening data.”

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Ednah Karamagi (BROSDI) brought us back to the importance of local knowledge in the open data landscape. “With indigenous knowledge, information that has multiple sources cultural connotation as text traditional folk song, play, a part of a story.

Here we have an element of repetition and information can become vague. Another challenge is that it is very difficult to change somebody’s culture and different people have different degrees of susceptibility to change.”

The next half of the panel session addressed the benefits. Fatma Ben Rejeb (PAFO) took on the perspective of farmers as providers of data. She sees two benefits for open data: the EAFF (East Africa Farmers Federation) and SACAU (Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions) – both PAFO members – data platforms that were launched and implemented for their members.

The benefit of these platforms is to share them with other platforms. However, she stated that “there are challenges is to implement it at a national level and to be able to use it to make farmers benefit from them.”

For this, “we need principles:

1) We cannot speak about open data in agriculture if it is not managed by farmers organisations; we need the consent of the farmers to open their data; if they are not aware of the importance of this data and we don’t have farmers org then we cant have access to this data

2) Farmers should retain ownership of their data; no one can assume now that farmers organisations are prepared to manage the data; we need capacity buildings and training to manage huge numbers of data from our partners

3) All of the angles address the same thing: climate smart agriculture.

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Allen (IFPRI) also noted the benefits of open data for policymakers in agriculture science and technology indicators, to track change over time on how money is spent, to understand what has changed and what does our agricultural production landscape look like?

In addition, Chimwaza (ITOCA) stated that the more we share data particularly on trials, the better it would be for us. Karamagi (BROSDI) added the importance of indigenous knowledge to farmers, especially rural farmers, because of its affordability.

Winnie Kamau (Association of Freelance Journalists) discussed the role open data plays for data journalists. She addressed the complex process of getting datasets and telling an effective story with by using them.

“We are able to take what we are given and make a compelling story and inform the readers. What should people with open data do to work with data journalism? Well, we need a lot of capacity building to understand open data; data driven journalism comes from passion. It goes beyond the traditional way of telling stories; now we are using facts backed up by data, and putting data on the front. With figures we can help the policy makers and readers make informed choices.”

The sessions concluded with poignant questions from the audience on data reliability, trust of the source of data, verification and quality.

Look out for more blog posts about our GFIA Africa session from our panelists.