Make data available to aid food security in Africa

Residents queue for a food rationa at Dedaab Refugee Camp
Copyright: Panos

Speed read

  • The agricultural sector need to grow by 70 per cent to tackle food insecurity
  • Experts call for easy access to reliable data to boost agriculture
  • An expert says partnerships with key bodies could aid data collection and use

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[NAIROBI] Effective use and sharing of reliable agricultural data could transform farming in Africa, a meeting has heard.
Critical players in the agricultural sector including policymakers, farmers, private agribusiness firms and financial institutions noted during the ministerial conference on agriculture and nutrition data and 4th Agritec Africa International Exhibition in Kenya this month (14-16 June) that use of data for decision-making and action for agricultural growth remains elusive in Sub-Saharan Africa.
According to experts, available data remains largely inaccessible to players along the agricultural value chains such as farmers, processors, traders and consumers.
The meeting, which was organised by the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition, discussed efforts to reduce food crises in Africa.

“Data remains a practicable investment for food and human security.”

Willy Bett, Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries 


The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that world population will reach 9.1 billion by 2050, and to feed that number of people, the agricultural sector will need to grow by 70 per cent to avoid food insecurity.
Willy Bett, Kenya’s cabinet secretary for agriculture, livestock and fisheries, says that the sector suffers from impacts of climate change, inadequate resourcing and lack of data. There is also higher food demand and little yield potential.
“While acknowledging that resources are not the only solution for the challenges in agriculture, data remains a practicable investment for food and human security,” Bett says.
Bett notes that there is a need for African countries to understand the potential value of data, and let entrepreneurs use it to help create the tools necessary to empower citizens for innovative agricultural transformation.
According to Bett, data could be useful in supporting ‘climate-smart’ agriculture in areas such as weather patterns, market demand, and soil profiles which are not easily available to farmers and extension service personnel.
Dibyakanta Nayak, a manager at Reliance Foundation, India, says that the continent needs to create platforms and capacity for farmers to use open data to understand what crops grow best where, what prices can be expected after harvest, or how best to adapt to weather changes, tackle diseases and other challenges.
“There is lack of real-time access to reliable and usable weather data across Africa. The information is often not available or, even if it exists, is inaccessible,” explains Nayak.

“[It is] of poor quality or unknown to those who need it most. Farmers don’t know where to obtain information on drought forecasts, rainfall distribution and pest outbreaks – leading to low agricultural production and food insecurity,” he adds.

He says that there is a need for commitment and action from nations and relevant institutions to promote policies and invest in projects that open access to the general public agriculturally relevant data streams, making such data readily accessible to users in Africa and worldwide.
These will ultimately support a sustainable increase in food security in developing and developed countries.
Nayak tells SciDev.Net that partnerships involving agricultural, insurance and telecommunication sectors could enhance data collection and delivery for critical services such as risk analysis, planning by the government and building capacity of farmers.

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.