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FEATURE STORY

Open Data + Agriculture Can Transform How Farmers Respond to Looming Crises

April 26, 2013

In Uganda, a team used the Ureport system to gather real-time data and track the spread of banana bacterial wilt. 

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Open data combined with agricultural knowledge, remote sensing, and mapping can support advice and early warnings for farmers.
  • That information can be critical to protecting crops from pests and extreme weather, increasing yields, monitoring water supplies, and anticipating changes brought on by climate change.
  • The G8 International Conference on Open Data for Agriculture will explore opportunities for open data and knowledge sharing, particularly in Africa.

Across Uganda's banana plantations, a devastating infection has been attacking the fruit, killing off entire crops and threatening food security. There are prevention methods to keep banana bacterial wilt (BBW) at bay, but the government faced a challenge: how to pinpoint the most vulnerable regions of the country and get prevention and treatment information into the hands of growers.

A team from the World Bank found an answer in open data built and spread by ICTs – information and communication technologies.

The project tapped into a system called Ureport – a network of 190,000+ volunteers across Uganda who use mobile technology to report on various issues of interest to UNICEF. Within days, the team was able to leverage Ureport to raise awareness, visualize the spread of the bacteria, and disseminate symptom descriptions and treatment options. More than 52,000 U-reporters either provided information about BBW, requested information, or both via SMS over the five days this spring.

"What Ureport made possible was not only information dissemination or data gathering, but a nationwide conversation focused on a critical issue for Ugandans," Lyudmila Bujoreanu, a World Bank ICT policy specialist, writes in a blog post describing the quick response in Uganda.

It also provided an example of fast data collection through ICTs that can help decision makers visualize crises as they develop and show them where and how best to respond. Similar data has been feeding into open data collections that today are using history, scientific knowledge, mapping, remote sensing, and real-time data collection to inform decisions and provide agriculture advice and warnings around the globe.

Exploring open data opportunities for agriculture

On April 29-30, the G8 International Conference on Open Data for Agriculture will bring together U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park, World Bank Vice President for Sustainable Development Rachel Kyte, and experts in the field to explore more opportunities for open data and knowledge sharing that can help farmers and governments in Africa and around the globe protect their crops from pests and extreme weather, increase their yields, monitor water supplies, and anticipate changes brought on by climate change.

"We are already seeing the immense benefits of open data across the globe, but no more so than in Africa, and, specifically, agriculture data provides some of the most promise," said Chris Vein, senior manager for ICT at the World Bank.

"Imagine creating the ability for farmers to use open data to understand what crops grow best where, or what prices can be expected after harvest, or how best to solve weather, blight or other challenges to yield. Open data combined with other tools such as cellular phones can do just that," Vein said. "Through the World Bank's Open Development work, we are helping countries understand the potential value of their data, unlock that value by letting entrepreneurs inside and outside government use it, and create the tools necessary to empower citizens."

Open Quotes

Imagine creating the ability for farmers to use open data to understand what crops grow best where, or what prices can be expected after harvest, or how best to solve weather, blight or other challenges to yield. Open data combined with other tools such as cellular phones can do just that. Close Quotes

Chris Vein
Senior Manager for ICT, World Bank

The expansion of open data on global agriculture is being built, in part, around a global strategy led by the World Bank, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and other foundations and organizations. The strategy, which aims to improve agricultural and rural statistics, starts with a minimum set of core data that countries will collect to meet current and emerging demands and improve agricultural sustainability.

Country-level agricultural data collection practices and standards are still developing in many regions. For example, just two of 44 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are considered to have high standards in data collection, according to the FAO. Organizations such as the Trust Fund for Statistical Capacity Building (TFSCB) and the African Development Bank are working now to build up that capacity by improving national statistical systems and creating information technology platforms for African countries to convert or store their data for future access. 

Other groups are putting open agriculture data to use in analyses and visualizations, often using geographic information systems, that can help practitioners target areas in need. For example:

  • The Agriculture Market Information System, created by the G20 and supported by the World Bank, uses open data to monitor and analyze key markets for wheat, maize, rice and soybeans. Its information helped inform responses and decisions during the 2012 drought.
  • Members of the agriculture research consortium CGIAR, supported by the Bank, also host a trove of open data, maps, and data visualizations. The Arab Spatial Development and Food Security Atlas, for example, maps land degradation, irrigated land, crop value, and other data across the Arab region. The Food Security Portal tracks price volatility, and HarvestChoice maps a series of agriculture indicators.
  • The World Bank’s Open Data Initiative provides access to the Bank’s vast and constantly growing datasets of key development indicators and visualizations, including data relevant to agriculture, such as changes in rainfall and climate change risk.

The conference will be streamed live online April 29 and 30 through the G8 International Conference on Open Data for Agriculture website and on the World Bank’s ICT site.