A world free of hunger and malnutrition is an ambition we all share, but the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFRPI) has a plan; in arming researchers, governments and activists with the accumulated wisdom already gathered in datasets around the world it can help bring sense to the assembled range of facts and deliver relevant data to those who are waging war against hunger and malnutrition.
This is not only a worthy pursuit but vital in an age when 20,000 people die daily from starvation, as reported by Dr Shenggen Fan, Director General of the IFRPI. Given the urgency of the problem open-access data and analysis of agricultural research can help create new waves of investment and aid growth for low and middle income countries. The need to break the vicious cycle of underdevelopment, climate change and crisis involving refugees requires access to useable data. Writing in his blog at the beginning of 2016 Dr Shenggen Fan explains how open data can play a foundational role in delivering solutions.
It is access to open data that helps create affordable crop insurance and Dr Shenggen Fan draws on a growing range of data saying, “there is also evidence linking hotter and wetter conditions to a rise in violence. Specifically, climate-related natural disasters can aggravate existing socioeconomic grievances and tension. This is especially the case when a government’s disaster-related actions are weak or unevenly distributed.”
To help address these concerns the Agricultural Science and Technology Indicators (ASTI) provide a trusted open-source data pool on agricultural research systems across the developing world.
The initiative, led by the IFPRI, working with a large network of partners collects, compiles, and disseminates information on financial, human, and institutional resources of value to those working to improve agriculture around the world. The open data based resources are shared both at country and regional levels.
The ASTI helps in the development of strategic plans by governments, assists research work at higher educational institutions and with projects implemented by non-profit organisations.
According to the IFPRI’s workplan for 2015- 2018, “ASTI is currently active in over 80 countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean. Sustained funding has enabled formerly ad hoc activities in South Asia and Africa south of the Sahara to be consolidated into an institutionalized system of data compilation, synthesis, and analysis at regular intervals.”
As a result of the IFPRI’s work it helps enhance local ownership of data and stimulates national-level advocacy and data analysis. All this is made possible because of open data. One of the IFPRI’s partners, the Global Forum on Agricultural Research reports, “The ASTI provides trusted open source data on agricultural research systems across the developing world. The ASTI country benchmarking tool enables cross-country comparisons and rankings of key ASTI indicators.”
Speaking at a meeting in Davos in 2016, Dr. Shenggen Fan referred to an issue of growing importance linked to research made possible by open data. “IFPRI is committed to identifying the origins and costs of food loss and waste across the value chain to promote effective interventions and set priorities for actions – this is directly aligned with IFRPI’s strategic research areas of ensuring sustainable production and improving markets and trade. We are dedicated to collaborating with our partners to ensure the success of this initiative.”
While policymakers realize that higher levels of investment in agricultural research are key to increasing yields the IFPRI believes many low and middle income countries continue to struggle with capacity and funding constraints in their agricultural research and higher education systems. Given this on-going problem, the IFRPI’s investment in providing information and supporting data dissemination is no surprise. Dr Shenggen Fan champions new ways to modernise agriculture and reducing the causes of malnutrition.
He says, “Scaling-up investments in science and technology and support for improved country capacities are fundamental to accelerating progress and achieving development objectives.
Technological innovations such as biotechnology, nanotechnology and biofortification, are crucial to increasing agricultural productivity, building resilience to weather-related shocks, enhancing the nutritional value of food crops, and ensuring food safety.
Similarly significant efforts should be made to improve the access to inputs such as improved seeds and fertilizer.” Open data makes these developments achievable and affordable.