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Boosting data innovations and entrepreneurship

Innovators, programmers, and application developers are at the forefront of a movement that combines big data, open data, and the internet of things to create new marketable products and services for the agricultural sector. Events, like hackathons, pitching and networking gatherings, are important for these young innovators to improve and exchange ideas, get technological advice, connect to investors and marketers.

During the Durban AgriHack Talent Challenge, which took place from 28 November to 2 December 2015 in South Africa, the winner in the category Climate Change made use of open data to develop and present a prototype technology. The three students from the Centre for Geoinformation Science (CGIS) worked on a platform that exists of a website and a mobile application to serve as a decision-making tool for farmers in selecting crop types in their area under future climatic conditions. For their prototype, called “Temo e Boso”, they used open data from different sources, notably those of the CGIAR Research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). The students partner with CCAFS and the Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions in the further development of the platform.

The Durban AgriHack Talent Challenge shows how important open data is for new technologies. Hackathons give innovators a platform to deliver a prototype technology with opportunities for further development. The Durban AgriHack is part of a larger hackathon talent programme initiated by CTA to support youth ICT innovations and entrepreneurship in agriculture. Hackathons have been organised by CTA in West Africa, East Africa, Southern Africa, and the Caribbean.

Remote field watering

The GODAN rewarded another winner during the Durban AgriHack event for their innovative use of open data. The MobiElectro team from Pretoria in South Africa made a prototype that harnesses cloud computing and the internet of things to improve water management on farms. It is a 2-tiered platform composed of an electronic circuit of sensors that monitor water levels, temperature, and UV light. The sensors send the information to an application through the cloud. The monitoring system tells the farmer when to water plants, or even does it for them if set in automatic mode.

Locally monitored data through sensors is combined with other variables that determine when a plant should be watered, like plant specific water needs and weather predictions. This data comes from open data sources like the climate change data from CCAFS and FAO Land and Water data. The team is looking now to add more data on nutrition to the system. With €3,000 prize money and €2,000 worth of equipment as hardware and software, the team can further improve the prototype, which gives them the opportunity to pitch the system in a later phase to investors and other interested stakeholders.

Hackathon and incubator programmes

Hackathons are at the forefront of using open data for new technologies and are part of a new wave of initiatives related to start-up companies all over the world. In hackathons prototypes of technologies are made, innovators can be linked to partners in all kind of network events, and in pitching events technologies are presented to investors, incubators, and accelerators. In September 2016, the GODAN conference hosted an Open Data Maker’s Hackathon, which gave young entrepreneurs and innovators the unique opportunity to exchange ideas, expand skills, whilst potentially winning a spot to participate in the next phase of the GODAN Open Data Challenge. Three finalists were selected. One of them is Farm Trade, an online marketplace for biofortified crops. The idea is to collect data from farmers to share with the marketplace about what biofortified crops are grown when, where, and of what quality. Making this data available is key to build this marketplace.

It is places like the regional hackathons or coding championships, followed by entrepreneurship support in ICT and agriculture, and the promotion of the products developed by the best young talents in for example incubator programmes, that transforms ideas and prototypes into real ICT products. Open data therefore not only stimulates new technology and solutions to boost agriculture and better nutrition, it also increases the business and employment opportunities for the young people involved and improves the image of agriculture.

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Innovators, programmers, and application developers are at the forefront of a movement that combines big data, open data, and the internet of things to create new marketable products and services for the agricultural sector. Events, like hackathons, pitching and networking gatherings, are important for these young innovators to improve and exchange ideas, get technological advice, connect to investors and marketers.

Demand is growing for gender data and targeted solutions for challenges unique to women, men, girls or boys. In Kenya, a community gathers and discusses gender citizen-generated data, which are uploaded to mobile phones and distributed to women leaders.

There is much potential for open data to positively affect the future of agriculture. But without a proactive, responsible approach, there is a very real risk of these changes benefiting only the most powerful actors within the sector.

Getting open data benefits to farmers will be crucial if the move towards open access is to have any real impact. There is a lot potential, but lack of reliable and contextualised data is currently working against smallholder farmers.

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Open data research can significantly help to stimulate changes in practices and organisation of the public and private sector actors in agriculture and food supply chains, but it cannot force those changes. Crucial are the researchers themselves, who need to interact to ensure their knowledge and expertise is used and useful.

Increasing the open access to nutrition and food data for ICT developers has resulted in a surge in applications for a healthier food intake and better fitness.

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It sounds simple, open data is there for anyone to access. However, not all journalists are aware of the open data available to them or how to use it when writing about food security or the critical challenges facing agriculture. Good journalism is not based on opinions, it relies on evidence-based information.

The Kenya government initiated the Open Data Initiative in 2011 on the idea that Kenya's information is a national asset. Agriculture is one of the main pillars, because food security and economic development can only move forward if decisions on agriculture are evidence-based. To be successful, data needs to be available, accurate, and open for all.

Wouldn’t it be handy if you could just switch on that app and see the agricultural (or any other) sector through a gender lens? And what if everyone else also working in the agricultural sector just magically started to use it? Would it make us do things differently, collect different data, push for the release and visualisation of other types of datasets, or would we make sure the data were more equally accessed and used?

Partners

  • Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition
  • e-Agriculture

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