Supporting the Global Science Community to Combat COVID-19
Written by: Dr. Suchith Anand, GODAN Chief Scientist
The spread of COVID-19 has caused an unprecedented situation of global scale which is changing rapidly. Repercussions are expected to extend far beyond the more obvious impacts on health and finances, to food security and stability. The COVID-19 epidemic is predicted to cause both direct and indirect impacts on food systems, the nature and severity of which will be determined by how national governments and local populations react to the crisis, and how well prepared they are for such an event.
Of the 2.5 billion people in developing countries living directly from the food and agriculture sector, 1.5 billion come from smallholder households. Smallholders provide up to 80 percent of the food supply in Asian and sub-Saharan Africa. The majority of people living with the threat of food insecurity are children, women and the elderly, many of whom rely on agriculture for survival.
With little available information to advise the value chain, COVID-19 represents a significant risk to food security and nutrition, especially in the developing world. The preparation necessary for maintaining sufficient stocks of foods - especially in countries and industries where production takes place on a daily basis - has been interrupted, and we have already seen the impact of this on supply chains. Governments often struggle to access sufficient data for effective decision making, an issue that is only intensified in crisis situations and states of national emergency, such as that presented by the current pandemic. Data access is made even more difficult in developing countries, who are less likely to have the infrastructure necessary for gathering and analysing the data that would facilitate informed decisions.
Data is an essential tool, allowing the science community to better understand COVID-19
The scientific community has been actively responding to this challenge. The International Science Council has created a portal encouraging scientists and policy makers to collaborate and share best practices, using the full resources available to the international science community through its scientific unions, academies, research councils, networks and initiatives.
Governments and donors, on a global scale, are launching and funding initiatives to ensure that pivotal decisions are made based on the best available scientific evidence, mobilising stakeholders to help tackle the current situation. There is an increasing need to unite existing initiatives and accelerate the development of core services to help meet the current crisis, highlighting the importance of open data and open science on a practical level. One important initiative, the Data Together COVID-19 Appeal and Actions, launched by the Data Together Organisations (comprising of CODATA, GO FAIR, RDA and WDS) has seen the conglomerate outline their joint commitment to work together to optimise the global research data ecosystem, identifying opportunities and needs that will trigger federated infrastructures to service the new reality of data-driven science.
The Data Together Organisations jointly contend that it is essential to meet both the immediate needs and the long-term objectives of global science by ensuring that data and science platforms and infrastructures are based on the FAIR Principles . This will maximise the ability to combine, visualise, and use data from many sources; facilitate fine-grained data access and protection; and allow for decentralised and machine-assisted analysis.
The current situation requires the accelerated implementation of a FAIR ecosystem. The need to act quickly should not lead to lowering our ambition as to what research and data infrastructure is needed, or to our accepting the view that a conventional portal is sufficient without an underlying FAIR infrastructure.
The GODAN community should support and contribute to the Data Together COVID-19 Appeal and Actions initiative. More information and details of how to join the various working groups are available at:
 Wilkinson, M., et al. The FAIR Guiding Principles for scientific data management and stewardship. Sci Data 3, 160018 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/sdata.2016.18
 European Commission Expert Group on FAIR Data, Turning FAIR into Reality, (2018) https://doi.org/10.2777/1524