More information leads to more power in advocacy

October 14, 2016
Photo by Pact/Abraham Ali

By Jordan Teague

The Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) Initiative held its annual summit in September in New York City. GODAN includes more than 370 partners, ranging from governments to businesses to academia to advocacy groups. The initiative supports the “sharing of open data to make information about agriculture and nutrition available, accessible, and usable to deal with the urgent challenge of ensuring world food security.”

But what is open data? Open data is data and information that are freely available for use and repurposing by anyone, without any restrictions or controls such as copyright. In the past, data on agriculture collected by groups such as governments, farmer associations, climatologists, and nonprofit organizations have not been shared or available for wider use. This is counterproductive for the agricultural sector as a whole and for farmers’ efforts to effectively and efficiently produce, process, and sell their crops. This is why GODAN and others are now leading a movement calling for more open data in the agriculture sector.

In addition to its critical importance to farmers, open data is key to framing strong policies on agriculture and nutrition. Decision makers need to have access to relevant data at the right time in order to put in place evidence-based and effective policies that support agriculture. Open data enables policy makers to access more accurate information and better-informed projections in order to assess agricultural needs and be able to respond to them.

For example, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) facilitates the online Food Security Portal, which houses comprehensive data and information on developments in food policy for 20 countries. The site contains data on areas related to “food security, commodity prices, economics, and human well-being.” IFPRI aggregates the data, and anyone can then download it. In order to ensure that the data is used in a way that is applicable to policy makers, the Food Security Portal also includes tools to help governments manage food crises and other challenges.

Open data is also important for advocacy. Having access and permission to use agriculture and nutrition data can help advocates hold governments, policy makers, and nongovernmental service providers accountable for progress. Open data can also give advocates information they need to secure more resources, by enabling them to making an evidence-based case for how much money is needed and what it is needed for.

The Global Nutrition Report (GNR) is an annual report that documents global and country progress on nutrition commitments. The GNR uses data available from sources such as the World Health Organization, the World Bank, and country governments themselves, and it shares the data it uses for anyone to download and analyze. The GNR is an extremely valuable and useful advocacy tool for advocates all over the world, from the United States to Malawi to Nepal. Advocates can use the GNR’s open data as evidence to show their governments what is working in the field of nutrition and what more needs to be done.

In an increasingly digital and interconnected world – and a world that has set a goal of ending hunger and malnutrition by 2030 - more data in agriculture and nutrition must be available and accessible. Open data will contribute to transparent policies and programs in agriculture and nutrition as well as support evidence-based activities within agriculture and nutrition. If the world is to truly end hunger and malnutrition once and for all, data – open data – will be a key to this success.

Jordan Teague is the international policy analyst for food security and nutrition with Bread for the World Institute.

Decision makers need to have access to relevant data at the right time in order to put in place evidence-based and effective policies that support agriculture.

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