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Archives for Agriculture

How Better-Trained Farmers are Slowing Brazil’s Deforestation

This originally appeared on the Mercy Corps’ Blog.

In Pará, Brazil, farmers are turning a profit and the government is on track to slow deforestation thanks to local nonprofit Imazon, which got them to work together.

By 2003, Brazil was on the verge of an environmental catastrophe. As its economy expanded, cattle ranchers needed more land to graze their livestock, and few laws prevented them from burning down thousands of square kilometers of untitled land in the Amazon, causing vast environmental damage. In the worst regions, like Pará, widespread poverty meant that stopping deforestation was at the bottom of the government’s list, despite massive efforts by groups like Greenpeace and Imazon.

Imazon has trained Brazilian cattle farmers to use their pastures more efficiently, reducing the need to cut down trees to clear land. Photo credit: Lou Gold/Flickr

A wave of environmental laws passed by the federal government from 2004 to 2008 seemed to complicate things for local governments and economies, even as deforestation rates fell. Many municipal governments couldn’t fully meet government targets under the new regulations but faced economic sanctions if they didn’t. A beef embargo prevented farmers from selling their meat to mainstream supermarket chains like Carrefour and Walmart if their municipality ended up on a blacklist for failing to reduce illegal deforestation to government-mandated levels. The government confiscated herds and sawmills from the law’s offenders. When Paragominas, a municipality in Para where Imazon worked, was placed on the list, 2,300 jobs and all the municipality’s federal agricultural credits disappeared within a year.

Imazon found itself helping save the local economy. It created a training program for the local government to learn how to use satellite technology to track deforestation. Since most of the affected land wasn’t titled, Imazon also helped farmers formalize their land titles and trained them in improved farming techniques, like rotating crops and limiting overgrazing, to make their land more productive and reduce the need to cut down more rainforest.

It worked. Farmers trained in better methods required less land to turn a profit, so they cut down fewer trees.

In just a few years, Imazon’s program in Paragominas helped to reduce illegal deforestation by more than 80 percent. When farmers in Paragominas implemented Imazon’s training techniques, most saw their incomes increase, even as they stopped clearing additional land. Inspired by the success of the program, the state government decided to launch its own Green Municipalities Program in 2011, essentially promoting Imazon’s collaborative approach in Paragominas at a state level. Now, more than 94 of Para State’s 143 municipalities have signed onto the Green Municipalities Program, and both the state government and Imazon are straining to meet the demand.

However, a new breakthrough came when Imazon attracted the attention of the Innovation Investment Alliance (PDF), a new partnership between Mercy Corps, USAID and the Skoll Foundation. This April at the Skoll World Forum, the partners announced their first grant of $3.4 million, complementing an earlier $2.6 million from Skoll. The funding will support Imazon to scale the successes in Paragominas across the state of Para. The project has ambitious goals, as the government has promised to reduce deforestation by 80 percent over the next seven years. By systematizing the training process, the Alliance hopes to leave the state government capable of responding to the growing demand from farmers and municipal governments who have seen Imazon’s programs work in Paragominas.

The question is how Imazon can show their methodologies work. Mercy Corps will help Imazon to test its approach in 10 municipalities serving as guinea pigs, drawing from its own network of experts in impact analysis.

But Imazon’s biggest success may be its ability to get locals on board with its ideas. 94 municipalities have already signed on to reducing deforestation through the Green Municipalities Program, and Cameron Peake, Mercy Corps’s director of social innovations special initiatives, says she’s impressed at how the nonprofit has persuaded the local farmers and government that environmental sustainability, economic growth, land rights and good governance can actually go together.

And that achievement, for one, is too valuable to put a number on.

Video of the Week: Turning the Tide on Global Hunger

In this Feed the Future video, narrator Matt Damon discusses efforts to turn the tide against global hunger and increase agricultural production around the world. The video was shown at the “Feed the Future: Partnering With Civil Society” event on September 27, 2012.

This morning, during a global nutrition-focused event co-hosted by Bread for the World Institute and Concern Worldwide, USAID announced its ongoing commitment to work with the U.S. Government’s leadership to reduce undernutrition around the world. The event followed the Nutrition for Growth event in London. During his trip and on behalf of the U.S. Government, Administrator Shah signed the Global Nutrition for Growth Compact which commits donors and private partners to scale up nutrition programs specifically targeted to reduce undernutrition in women and children.

Also last week, Administrator Rajiv Shah and Tjada McKenna, deputy coordinator for Feed the Future, participated in a Google+ Hangout on the role of nutrition in child survival and food security nutrition with representatives from the ONE Campaign, GAIN and 1,000 Days, as well as Candice Kumai, who is a chef, food writer, Iron Chef Judge and nutrition champion for Future Fortified.

Learn more about USAID’s work on improving nutrition

Follow @USAID, @USAIDGH and @FeedtheFuture on Twitter and use #GHMatters to join in the conversation about global health issues including #nutrition.

Building a More Nutritious Future for All

A silent crisis is happening right now. It affects 165 million children globally, robbing them of the future they deserve and leading to more child deaths every year than any other disease. In a world of plentiful, nutritious foods and advanced science, this is unacceptable.

We can do better. And we can do it together.

At a landmark event in London this weekend, global government, business, and civil society leaders will join together to commit to a different future — one in which every child benefits from the nutrition needed to grow and thrive.

Administrator Shah at the Nutrition for Growth event in London. Photo credit: USAID

As the head of USAID – and as a parent of young children – I am privileged to show the United States’ support for global nutrition at the Nutrition for Growth event today. This event’s global reach reflects growing recognition that the challenge of undernutrition is solvable, but requires a new approach.

To proactively address the root causes of hunger and undernutrition and get the most out of every development dollar invested, we cannot treat nutrition, global health, and food security as isolated priorities. We must integrate our approach across sectors, forging high-impact partnerships and driving game-changing innovation from farms to markets to tables.

Feed the Future is doing just that, working with businesses, local communities, farmers’ organizations, and country leaders to not only reduce poverty and hunger but undernutrition too. Last year, we reached 12 million children through nutrition programs that reduced anemia, supported community gardens, and treated malnutrition.                                                                                          

This focus reflects the United States’ long history as the global leader in nutrition, from providing emergency food aid during crises to helping farmers and their families grow and consume more nutritious foods.

In fact, we have nearly doubled nutrition-specific funding through our global health programs and we have tripled agriculture funding since 2008, targeting our investments where we can deliver meaningful impact. We’ve also been a strong supporter of the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program, which funds country priorities in agricultural development and nutrition.

Today, I was pleased to announce that the U.S. Government is providing more than $1 billion for nutrition-specific interventions and nearly $9 billion on nutrition-sensitive activities over fiscal years 2012-2014.

These investments support and accelerate trends in stunting reduction; ultimately to reduce stunting by 20 percent over five years in the areas where we work through Feed the Future, translating into 2 million fewer stunted children.

Today we also signed on to the global Nutrition for Growth Compact, endorsing high-level goals for improving nutrition.

Integrating and expanding nutrition activities into our agricultural development programs makes good sense and is effective, as many of our civil society partners demonstrate every day in the field. And a growing body of research and knowledge, including the recently released The Lancet Series on Maternal and Child Nutrition, provides strong evidence that improving nutrition is one of the best ways to achieve lasting progress in development.

Ensuring that a child receives adequate nutrition, particularly in the critical 1,000-day window from a woman’s pregnancy to her child’s second birthday, can yield dividends for a lifetime as a well-nourished child will perform better in school, more effectively fight off disease, and even earn more as an adult. Nutrition is central to ending preventable child death.

The evidence is also clear that governments can’t do this alone.

Momentum for improving nutrition is strong, in large part thanks to our civil society partners who have worked tirelessly to mobilize support around the world behind the evidence that nutrition matters. Just today a coalition of U.S. NGOs pledged $750 million over five years in private, nongovernment funds for nutrition.

In a world where private sector investment flows vastly outpace official assistance, nations will only achieve development in partnership with a vibrant and transparent private sector as well. That is the mission behind the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition.

In just one year, the New Alliance has grown into a $3.75 billion public-private partnership that builds on country investment plans developed by African countries through the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program and works to integrate the principles of the Scaling Up Nutrition movement, which recognizes the meaningful impact of nutrition on all aspects of society—from health to agriculture to long-term growth and stability.

During its presidency of the G-8 this year, the United Kingdom has worked hard to carry the New Alliance forward, keeping momentum strong for this groundbreaking partnership.

Ending extreme poverty by advancing nutrition from farms to markets to tables is the vision that brings business, development, and civil society representatives together this weekend.

It’s also what inspires us to work together to ensure that every child has a healthy start and every nation a brighter future.

For updates on the Nutrition for Growth event this weekend and what the United States is doing to improve nutrition, follow the hashtags #Nutrition4Growth and #GHmatters on Twitter. 

#AskAg Twitter Chat: Intersection of HIV and AIDS & Food Security

Do you wonder how we can improve food security for HIV-affected households? Do you ask yourself how activities in the agriculture sector and for improving economic growth can play a role in helping these vulnerable populations? Well, then please join us on Thursday, May 23 from 12-1:30 pm EDT for an #AskAg Twitter Chat on the “Intersection of HIV and AIDS & Food Security.” The chat is sponsored through the Feed the Future initiative and hosted by Agrilinks, USAID Office of HIV/AIDS, and the Livelihoods and Food Security Technical Assistance (LIFT) project as part of Global Health Month at USAID.

The chat will feature tweets from:

  • Meaghan Murphy (@MurphyMeaghan) — Food Security and Livelihoods Specialist, FHI 360
  • Kirsten Weeks (@klweeks) — Global Lead, Health, Nutrition & Livelihoods, DAI
  • Jason Wolfe (@jasonmwolfe) — Senior Household Economic Strengthening Advisor, USAID’s Office of HIV/AIDS

So why is this topic worth tweeting about?  Here are some key issues to keep in mind:

  • The relationship between HIV and AIDS and livelihood/food insecurity is bi-directional: HIV and AIDS can increase the vulnerability of households and communities to livelihood and food insecurity, while livelihood and food insecurity can also increase the risk of a person becoming infected with HIV.
  • HIV and AIDS can impact all aspects of a household’s livelihood, including directly affecting its income generation and productivity due to compromised health of people living with HIV (PLHIV), increased care costs associated with the chronic illness, stigma, and even death of affected household members. These reduced livelihoods opportunities can have direct impacts on household food access and ultimately the diet quality and quantity of individuals in the household.
  • The increased nutritional needs of PLHIV and the toll that HIV takes on the body complicate and further make food utilization and proper nutrition critical elements of the HIV and AIDS and food security discussion.
  • Vulnerable households with insecure livelihoods and food access, often resort to unsustainable coping behaviors that may include those that can put them at great risk for contracting HIV.

How to participate:

Agrilinks is an activity of the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future initiative, led by USAID’s Bureau for Food Security.

Harvest, Meet Market: How a New Fund Will Accelerate Agricultural Infrastructure in Africa

Since 1964, the African Development Bank (AfDB) has worked with African countries to develop their economies and progress socially.

This week, with AfDB and the Government of Sweden, we launched a first-of-its-kind effort to expand this progress and growth. The Agriculture Fast Track will encourage private sector investment in agricultural infrastructure projects to advance food security in Sub-Saharan Africa. In doing so, it supports Africa’s agriculture transformation agenda.

Incentivizing investment in agriculture

Historically, the private sector hesitated to invest in agriculture in Africa—and for good business reasons. Investing in agriculture has inherent risks, including drought, crop and livestock diseases and fluctuating crop prices. Agriculture projects can have high start-up costs because systems and facilities must be developed before they can begin making a profit. Given these challenges, it can be difficult for African countries and their development partners to create lasting improvements in food security.

That’s why we are so excited about renewed efforts to tackle these challenges in order to catalyze private investment that can spur economic growth while reducing hunger and undernutrition. Following the lead of African nations, efforts like the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition have coupled tough regulatory policy reforms with private investment commitments in agriculture. African leadership has driven these efforts forward, with governments undertaking transparent market-oriented reforms that encourage private investment and reduce barriers to agriculture-led economic growth.

USAID, the African Development Bank, and the Government of Sweden launch Agriculture Fast Track Fund for infrastructure projects in Africa. Photo credit: USAID

Bridging the last mile

But the last mile linking farms to markets still needs to be strengthened.

Smallholder farmers in Africa are some of the poorest and hungriest people in the world. And while the world has worked to reach them with the tools, skills and knowledge they need to increase their crops, farmers also need infrastructure.

Agriculture infrastructure reduces the risks farmers face—for instance by providing irrigation so farmers don’t rely solely on erratic rainfall to water their crops. It also provides ways for farmers to get their harvests to markets (and buyers, and ultimately to tables) quicker, like on nicely paved roads, and helps preserve harvests longer, using electricity and modern preservation and processing facilities.

The Agriculture Fast Track addresses this challenge head on. It is the first and only fund exclusively focused on infrastructure for agriculture and food security. As a New Alliance deliverable aimed at addressing barriers to agricultural development, it defrays front-end development costs and risks the private sector is unwilling to shoulder alone.

Operationally, the Agriculture Fast Track will fund technical assistance for public and private sector organizations seeking to create agricultural infrastructure projects. By providing grants for activities like scoping assessments, feasibility studies, market analyses, and social impact investments, the Agriculture Fast Track will help create a pipeline of projects able to garner the private capital needed to start and complete them.

Learn more

Along with our colleagues at AfDB and the Government of Sweden, we’ve developed a variety of materials for you to learn more about Agriculture Fast Track and the vision we have for it.

Feeding Africa’s Future

This originally appeared on the World Economic Forum Blog.

Today, we have the tools and knowledge to end extreme poverty and hunger by working together to transform agriculture. This isn’t just a development hypothesis; it’s actually happening.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to see firsthand the dramatic results of an emerging agriculture transformation on a visit to Tanzania. In just one year, rice yields have increased by over 50% and horticulture yields by 44% – early progress being reflected in farms and fields across Africa.

Across the continent, African nations are taking concrete steps to make agricultural development like this a priority, lifting families out of poverty and increasing their participation in the global economy.

A farmer picks coffee beans in Nyeri. Photo credit: REUTERS/Stringer

More than 20 countries in Africa have developed country-owned investment plans and at least seven have increased expenditures in agriculture. African nations have come together under a common vision to make progress like this possible and reduce underinvestment in agriculture to put their continent on a new course towards sustainable, inclusive development.

Grow Africa is helping that vision become reality.

Grow Africa is a partnership of the African Union, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, and the World Economic Forum. After only one year, it is already seeing results by working with eight African countries to engage governments, civil society, and the private sector to advance sustainable agricultural growth. These partnerships have already invested more than US$ 60 million in agriculture and reached more than 800,000 smallholder farmers, connecting them to markets and innovative tools and opportunities.

We are excited to be a part of this progress, supporting Grow Africa and the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) through Feed the Future, President Obama’s global hunger and food security initiative. Feed the Future targets investments in countries that have demonstrated a commitment to their own agricultural development. This past year, we helped more than 7 million farmers around the world apply new technologies and practices, four times the number we reached the previous year.

To expand this progress and reach more people across the continent, President Obama announced the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition at the 2012 G8 Summit. Much like Grow Africa, this global partnership brings together African governments, the private sector, and donors to accelerate investment in agriculture through market-oriented reforms and new private sector commitments.

African nations are leading progress on this effort. Tanzania has removed its export ban on staple commodities, Mozambique eliminated permit requirements for inter-district trade, and Ethiopia no longer imposes export quotas on commercial farm outputs and processed goods. At the same time, more than 60 companies – half of them local African firms – have committed US$ 3.7 billion towards African agriculture, with plans to lift 50 million people out of poverty in the next 10 years.

This week, we will announce with our partners new efforts that will catalyze private sector investments in agricultural infrastructure in Africa and strengthen capacity in African agriculture sectors. These efforts align with our commitments through Feed the Future and the New Alliance to help reduce poverty, hunger and undernutrition.

Earlier this year, during the State of the Union address, President Obama called on the United States to help end extreme poverty in the next two decades. The President spoke from the belief that even in a time of tight budgets around the world, we can still come together to accomplish incredible goals.

We can’t do it without our partners. We look forward to continuing to support country-led efforts like Grow Africa, building momentum towards a future free of extreme poverty and hunger.

Rajiv Shah is Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development. Follow him on Twitter @RajShah

Why Open Data Matters: G-8 and African Nations Increase Open Data for Food Security

Jimmy Wambua, a social justice worker and young entrepreneur in Nairobi, Kenya, saw a problem. In a country where smallholder farmers grow the food that feeds the Kenyan people, crop yields were not reaching their full potential and growers were not getting a fair price. Decisions about what crops to plant and when were made on speculation and instinct, and farmers sold their crops based on prices offered by middlemen and traders. A solution seemed evident: increase access and sharing of information that already exists and is public, but is not in-use by the farmers. Jimmy joined the M-Farm organization that set up a text-message based mobile phone application for farmers to gain a better price by accessing market price for their crops- rather than relying on the word of the buyer- and provide a platform for farmers to sell their goods online. USAID contributed to the work of M-Farm- not through a grant or loan or other financial capital- but with information capital. With the release of an open data set from the Famine Early Warning System (FEWSNet) M-Farm now has access to ten years of historic data about market prices of crops, which show trends in crop price fluctuation, and enables better decision making on which crops to plant to yield the highest income.

Kenyan farmer shows her crops. Photo credit: Jimmy Wambua

M-Farm’s story was just one of dozens that took the stage April 29 & 30 at the G-8 International Open Agriculture Data Conference and showcased innovative organizations that use open data to support global food security. Dr. Howard-Yana Shapiro of Mars Global shared progress on mapping the genomes of over 100 crops that are vital to food security, but are overlooked because they are not commercially viable. Palantir Technologies and Grameen Foundation displayed their open data app that they developed at USAID’s Hack for Hunger,which uses community knowledge worker-collected data and Palantir analytics to build a crop-specific food security early warning system for farmers in Uganda.

The concept of open agriculture data fuses transparency and technology to improve food security worldwide; farmers, entrepreneurs, and researchers recognize the impact and potential of increasing access to information and are increasingly receiving high-level support. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack touted the U.S. Government’s leadership role in increasing open data for development impact and for global growth. Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, highlighted the use of open genomic data to leapfrog development of new agricultural products. Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, acting NOAA Administrator and the first American woman to walk in space, delivered an inspiring perspective of the role that data can play in transcending and unifying an Earth without country borders or sector divisions. Four hundred food security specialists, data scientists, and technology experts gathered with policy makers from G-8 and the six African New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition countries to work together to increase available information and launch G-8 country action plans to get more data open from both the public and private sector. U.S. Chief Technology Officer and Special Assistant to the President Todd Park cheered the work of the conference stating that, “by liberating data from the vaults of government and the private sector, we can accelerate the use of open agriculture and nutrition data to advance global food security while also fueling the growth of new businesses and jobs.”

The G-8 Heads of Delegation Valery Khromchenkov (Russia), Robert Turnock (Canada), Hideaki Chotoku (Japan), Tim Wheeler (United Kingdom), Guillou Marion (France), Martin Koehler (Germany), and Giulio Menato (European Union) listen to Agriculture Under Secretary Research, Education and Economics (REE) Dr. Catherine Woteki (U.S.) announce the action plans developed at the G-8 International Conference on Open Data for Agriculture 2013. Photo Credit: USDA photo by Bob Nichols.

USAID has been consistently demonstrating its role as a leader in increasing open data. Multiple G-8 conference speakers joined because of products they had made as a result of the December 2012 Development DataJam that USAID’s Innovation & Development Alliances (IDEA) office co-hosted with the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy. At the DataJam, USAID leadership joined with other issue experts, innovators, data scientists, and entrepreneurs to commit to developing prototypes that use open data to improve international. Continuing the support of these and other data innovators and social entrepreneurs, last week USAID launched www.usaid.gov/developer with new datasets and tools that had previously not been available to the public, including some we support through Feed the Future the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative. Each of these datasets are useful on their own, and when compared and applied with other datasets from USAID and other organizations, they have the growing potential to dramatically increase the impact and efficiency of international assistance.

In an increasingly networked and tech-savvy world, open data has the potential for more people to use information for social good, and USAID and global development goals directly benefit from increasing access to information.Like any technological tool, open data is useless without the people applying and engaging with it. Only through active and consistent participation can we ensure that information is timely, useful, and used. We can expect that these changes will come. Let’s get that information online and useable. Let’s get data open. Food security data is just the beginning.

For more information on USAID’s open data work, visit www.usaid.gov/developer or email OpenAgData@usaid.gov.

Katherine Townsend serves as Special Assistant for Engagement in USAID’s office of Innovation & Development Alliances. Follow her on Twitter @DiploKat.

Full Speed Ahead for Open Ag Data

This originally appeared on White House Office on Science & Technology Blog.

Last week, hundreds of innovators gathered at the World Bank IFC Center to brainstorm about how Open Data can be harnessed to help meet the challenge of sustainably feeding nine billion people by 2050.  The group included delegates from the G-8 group of nations, U.S. Government officials, private sector partners, Open Data advocates, technology experts, and nonprofit leaders – all participants in the first-of-its-kind G-8 International Conference on Open Data for Agriculture.

Participants in the G-8 International Conference on Open Data for Agriculture, including US Chief Technology Todd Park, listen to opening remarks by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in Washington, D.C. on Monday, Apr. 29, 2013. Photo Credit: Bob Nichols/USDA

The foundation for such collaboration was set by President Obama’s first ever global development policy which emphasizes broad-based economic growth, innovation, and partnership; and the President’s leadership on food security through the L’Aquila Food Security Initiative and Feed the Future.  Then, at the 2012 G-8 Camp David Summit, the G-8 nations, African partners, the private sector and civil society launched the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition and committed to host a conference focused on sharing relevant data to help advance agriculture and ensure food security for people around the world. At the end of the year, the White House hosted a Global Development Data Jam—the first high-level U.S. Government event to feature the potential of Open Data to address global challenges.

Last week’s G-8 “Open Ag Data” conference hosted by the USDA, built on this important groundwork by focusing on ways to ensure that Open Data about agriculture are not only available, but also put to good use. It also highlighted some excellent work that’s already underway and making positive change in the Open Ag Data arena, including:

  • MFarm has built a mobile application that allows farmers to receive accurate, real-time crop-price information from five major markets in Kenya, via daily text message, six days per week. The service helps farmers to make informed decisions on what to plant when, how to price produce, and where to sell to the largest profit.  MFarm is currently refining their service and will soon begin integrating USAID data into their product to help deliver more accurate price information to users.
  • INSEAD has introduced Toto Agriculture, a smartphone interface fueled by USAID data that provides village-specific agricultural data. Users can use this free application to access localized information on soil, pests, climate, and planting tips in over 100 languages.
  • iPlant: A community driven collaborative of researchers, educators, and students working to enrich all plant sciences through the development of the cyberinfrastructure essential for modern biology. The collaborative can sequence the genome of an individual cow in 3 hours, taking the time of sequencing from months down to hours.

But this is just the beginning. At last week’s conference, USDA, USAID, and a number of other entities—both domestic and international—unleashed a host of new datasets, tools, and platforms—with more to come in the weeks and months ahead. For our part, the U.S. Government:

  • Launched The Food, Agriculture, and Rural “data community” on Data.gov, which offers more than 300 datasets (and growing!) that relate to the social, economic, and environmental aspects of agriculture. For example, the new community offers Quick Stats—a comprehensive tool for accessing agricultural data profiles by subject area or commodity, such as crops and plants, or livestock. Over the next few months, USDA will make these data available in a robust Application Programming Interface (API) to enable easier sharing of data by third party applications and services.
  • The Millennium Challenge Corporation released an open evaluation data catalog that contains household survey metadata from food security programs in Armenia, El Salvador, Ghana, and the Philippines, and more data is coming soon.
  • Launched USAID.gov/Developer, a page that curates APIs and datasets specifically for developers looking to scrub in and work with open global development data. APIs include the U.S. Overseas Loans and Grants, or Greenbook, which encompasses all international aid funding allocations.  This data will help developers and researchers more dynamically parse these data, that goes all the way back to the Marshall Plan.

We can’t wait to see what entrepreneurs, nonprofits, researchers, scientists and others around the world do with these new resources, and what exciting innovations emerge. We’re also excited to strengthen our partnership with other countries and the private sector to further liberate data and improve global food security.

The G-8 Open Data for Agriculture Conference was a great start.  We look forward to seeing the Open Ag Data movement continue—leveraging data, collaboration, and innovation to accelerate progress toward our food security goals.

There are steps you can take right now to get involved in the Open Ag Data movement:

Todd Park is the U.S. Chief Technology Officer.

Tom Vilsack is the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.

Who Stole My Cow? Open Data and Praedial Larceny

On December 23, 2012, thirty-two cows were stolen from a farm in Trelawny, Jamaica. By the time the story was picked up by a national newspaper three months later, the farm had been practically shut down, with only six of the original twenty-two workers still employed. Praedial larceny — the theft of agricultural produce and livestock — is widely acknowledged as a major threat to agricultural production and food security in developing countries. It robs legitimate producers, stifles incentives for farming entrepreneurs and adversely affects the poor. In Jamaica, this scourge deprives farmers of more than JA$5 billion (US$52 million) each year. The Rural Area Development Authority (RADA), an agency of Jamaica’s Ministry of Agriculture, has demonstrated a strong commitment to using open data to combat this economic drain and improve the resilience of the island’s agricultural industry.

Stanford Political science professor talking with farmer in Cornation Market in Kingston, Jamaica about praedial larceny. Photo credit: Matthew McNaughton

At its core, praedial larceny thrives on information asymmetries that limit coordination between stakeholders, such as farmers, law enforcement, and buyers of produce. The free flow and accessibility of information about registered farmers, their production, incidences of theft and linkages between production and market are all a part of the information ecosystem that is needed to combat this challenge.

It is within this context that I am excited by the G-8 International Open Agriculture Data Conference and the U.S. Government and USAID’s commitment to supporting agriculture open data. While the value of data is derived from its usage, the principle of ‘openness’ is founded on access and participation. Having more relevant and timely access to data for not only policy makers and data scientists, but also farmers, innovators and other intermediaries, will help to create the solutions needed to prevent threats to food security.

Over the last three years RADA has collaborated with universities, NGOs, and entrepreneurs, including the Mona School of Business & Management, the Caribbean Open Institute, and the SlashRoots Foundation, to publish agriculture open data through APIs and develop a number of proof of concept applications and visualizations to improve extension services and policy making. They partnered in Developing The Caribbean, a regional open data conference and code sprint that spanned six islands this year, where they released data and helped define problem statements to development challenges, along with government agencies from across the Caribbean. The event attracted over 200 volunteers software developers and domain experts in agriculture, tourism and data journalism, who generated over twenty-five prototypes in response to thirty problem statements.

Testing low tech prototypes in largest market in Jamaica after two day workshop to collaborative build solutions with users. Photo credit: Matthew McNaughton

Looking forward to further collaboration with RADA focused on specific development challenges, such as praedial larceny, one thing is clear: open government data in agriculture will be critical to breaking down the silos that typically create governance bottlenecks. This requires focusing not aggregate macro datasets, but instead opening small, service level indicators, originating from any development partner, that can provide “just in time” data to inform decision making. Early program prototypes include employment opportunities as data collectors for at-risk youth, and mobile farmer ID verification for law enforcement and buyers of produce.

To this end, we’re embracing open data that not only helps to catalyze innovation outside of government, but also lowers the barriers for RADA and the farmers they serve, to explore new ways of collaborate to solve the problems that impact them both.

Matthew McNaughton (@mamcnaughton) is an Open Innovation & Development Consultant at the World Bank, and Director of the SlashRoots Foundation, a Caribbean Civic tech non-profit, aiming to accelerate the evolution of the technology ecosystem in the region. SlashRoots is collaborating with the Caribbean Open Institute to launch the Code For The Caribbean Fellowship program. CftC is a member of the Code For All Network, Code For America’s International Program.

Shared Ag Data is a Secured Future for Vulnerable Populations

In Kahuho village, up on the foot of the Aberdare Ranges, is a potato farmer, Loise Mugure. Loise owns a two-and-a-half acre piece of land but while she could plant it all at once, she only cultivates a quarter an acre each season. She is among the 87 farmers from her village who approached M-Farm for help.

The price uncertainty on agricultural commodities has forced farmers to gamble on how much to plant each season.

Yes, these farmers had learned and embraced good agricultural practices. They have adopted new climate resilient crop varieties, even improved the health of their soils but their problems persisted. They needed information on how the markets behaved.

Local farmer sells potatoes. Photo credit: USAID

At M-Farm, we set out to five markets in Kenya to provide them with real-time agricultural price information. We went a step further and made this information readily available through SMS platform. We thought this was the ultimate solution the farmers needed. There still existed a gap. The farmers wanted to be shown the future of markets. It needed data. The data was scarce. We could only do much with the few months’ data we had gathered.

Working with farmers on a daily basis, I became frustrated too. I could not provide them with the outlooks they needed because I did not have the agricultural data to analyse and present to them.

It is exciting to have the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET) dataset on Agriculture available to M-Farm. As a software solution and Agribusiness company focused on connecting farmers, we intend to integrate this dataset into our SMS information platform for our farmers.

We are processing the data to more meaningful information to farmers, then package it to suit their needs. This will help the farmers take important decisions on agricultural productivity.

What is beautiful about the FEWSNET data that the USAID has provided to our farmers is that it is from markets we know and on crops that are our staples. Finding local interpretation of the FEWSNET dataset gives us control of our situation. We can help protect food insecure populations from hunger with this data that has been made open to us.

Agricultural productivity creates benefits for everyone in the community. Photo credit: USAID

With access to the FEWSNET market price data, our farmers are richer with more useful information on the market behavior. The more the data, the more sophisticated the analysis and the presentation tool.

Connecting farmers with the right information and at the right time levels the playing field for them, creates transparency and improves their livelihoods.

At M-Farm the FEWSNET database is not just data, it is critical information that is finding its way into the lives of the primary producers who feed the nation.

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