To meet these challenges, growing volumes of data generated by governments, organisations and individuals need to be harnessed. Improved access to, and use of, open data at grassroots, local, national and global levels holds the potential to transform both long-standing and emerging problems, finding solutions that benefit farmers and global food security.
However, critical datasets that could be used to accelerate innovation and change are often inaccessible and sometimes non-existent. Current efforts to share and publish data are not always joined up for maximum impact. Making open data work for agriculture requires a shared agenda to increase the supply, quality, and interoperability of data, alongside action to build capacity for the use of data by all stakeholders.
Open data is data that anyone can access, use or share. What makes data ‘Open Data’ is defined by the principles of the Open Data Charter (see Box 1).These add to the widely used FAIR principles indicating that open data should also be data that is Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable. Making agriculture data open facilitates the development of solutions to food security in ways that would otherwise be expensive, time intensive or impossible. Possible impacts from open data include:
- enabling more efficient and effective decision making by stakeholders at all levels, from smallholder farmers to policy-makers;
- fostering innovation that everyone can benefit from – as a raw material for creating new services, insights, and applications;
- driving organisational and sector change through transparency in food production chains, and by openly measuring progress against targets.
Many different actors exist each contributing to the food security challenge from their own perspective. Sharing data means that actors in the agricultural sector can start making more informed decisions, making the sector run more smoothly and contributing more to the food security challenge. However each of the potential end users of open data will have different data needs. As an example: a smallholder farmer needs information at a plot level to make operational or strategic decisions on when to plant what crop and how to manage these crops on his or her farm. A financial service provider or a trader needs a more general picture on the agricultural risks or harvest successes in a particular region to determine a strategy for their operations. More and more studies demonstrate the impact of open data for agriculture. Governments can play a pivotal role by publishing relevant datasets and making sure they are ready for reuse.
Figure 2: The agricultural sector consists of many different actors each having their own data needs. See the main text for further explanation.