What role can ICTs play in using Open Data in Agriculture and Nutrition for family farmers?

Andre Laperriere
Andre LaperriereGODANUnited Kingdom

Welcome everybody, to this global e-forum on ICTs and Open Data in Agriculture and Nutrition.

In the next three weeks, we are looking forward to exciting discussions – at the beginning of each week a guiding discussion question (setting the theme) will be posted on the forum and you are free to reply with your contributions. 

Sustainable Development Goal 2: Zero Hunger aims to achieve food security, sustainable agriculture, and improve nutrition. It is crucial to monitor the progress towards SDG2 with the correct information and data.

Many stakeholders within the agriculture and nutrition sectors have highlighted the importance of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) for sustainably increasing agricultural productivity and facilitating access to agricultural information and services by marginalized groups (mainly women and the youth) and poor communities.

ICTs may improve farm level decision making, maximise the use of farm resources, improve the quality and safety of farm produce and to improve financial, and logistical services for farmers to market their produce.

Increasing the availability and accessibility of data through ICTs and enabling their effective use, could also offer even more benefits for smallholder farmers and rural communities through more precise agriculture and market chain management of their produce.

Open data on the whole accelerates innovation and generates economic and social capital, but must not neglect those who are economically, politically, socially and technologically weak and less powerful. Data, like the Sustainable Development Goals, must help everyone equally.

This online debate on the e-Agriculture platform will explore the cross roads between ICTs and issues around open data in Agriculture and Nutrition and its effective use, with a focus on establishing what benefits and possible losses, can accrue to smallholder farmers.

I wish you all a fruitful discussion.

Ajit Maru
Ajit MaruFood and Agriculture Organization of the United NationsItaly

Thank your Andre, l would set the discussion with my personal observations.

In a joint workshop of farmers, extension agents and scientists held recently held recently at Dantewada, in North Gujarat, India in which I participated, some farmers, most of them small holder family farmers growing spices such as cumin, anise and chillies, demanded that the University develop an application (app) on their “Smart” phones that enables farmers to record their data. They wanted to record their data because they wanted their produce to meet GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) standards and get certification needed for export such as to Europe.

I as an observer started examining this demand. Farmers wanted a data driven agricultural system because they wanted to participate to earn more in a globally competitive market and following GAP standards and producing the evidence for having met those standards was a must. They wanted to use the latest available information and communication technologies (ICTs) that enabled easy data flows (Smart phones and 4G which is now available across most of India). Their immediate use was of course to present evidence of following GAP so that they could be registered and participate in International markets. But why did the University not do this in advance before being made a demand intrigued me! It should have had a foresight of this need. I started discussing this issue with the University people.

The issues that came to my notice was that the University leadership was not fully aware of the need. The demand of the app had not been articulated by their extension staff who were focused more in solving agronomic concerns of farmers not the whole agri-business of farming. The extension agents were also “shy” of using data as they had little capacity or training in data driven agriculture. They also had a notion that farmers could not use “advanced” technologies. No one among the University people discussed with me how such data could be made use of in their research and for innovation both by University and the farmer community.

I even goaded the University in my remarks when I suggested that data for incidence and prevalence, since both the location and time data were available, of plant diseases and crops could also be gathered and a plant disease surveillance and monitoring system be developed that can over time be developed using other data into a disease forecasting system.

Farmers could be given more reliable diagnosis of diseases and pest in their plants and crops if they shared images along with the occurrence of a plant/crop related problem. And, of course the University needed an open data and information policy, strategy and capacities to implement it so that farmers and other users (including fertilizer and pesticide suppliers) could contribute and see the results and impact of data contributions. This also needed change in both the University’s and its people towards using ICTs in agriculture.

The purpose of this discussion is to explore how information communication technologies (ICTs) can be used in facilitating the fair use of open data in agriculture and nutrition by farmers in general and especially by the more vulnerable among them such as family farmers, rural women and the youth engaged in farming as a livelihood. The above story illustrates some of the issues that use of openly available data and information face in farming and agriculture.

I am sure others also have similar stories and insights.

Ajit Maru

Caroline Figueres
Caroline FigueresFigueres consultancyNetherlands

Thanlks for sharing this experience. Same for countries in Western Africa.

Farmers know what they need, much better than any well intentioned university or NGO or private sector company or government staff. But very often nobody is asking them what they need. It is a human tendency not to ask. In our societies people have the impression that not knowing is considered as a failure. In fact this is just the other way round. Asking is the source of empowering. In the case of using ICT by farmers it is important to also ask why, several time as the technology to be used is depending on the need. Using sms, Voice, radio, etc.

Christopher Baker
Christopher BakerIPSNP Computing IncCanada

Hello Ajit - this App may be of interest to you


Thembani Malapela
Thembani MalapelaFood and Agriculture Organization of the United NationsItaly

Dear Chris,

Could you also post this in this week as a case study with just a brief summay



Tadesse Anberbir
Tadesse AnberbirEthiopian Institute of Agricultural ResearchEthiopia

ICT will play a great role for sharing open data in agricultural research institutes mainly research outputs (agricultural information & technologies) for farmers and devlopment agents as demanded and with thier local langauge. It will also play a role in managing huge knowlege in agricultural research institutes.

Girima Tona
Girima TonaNational Ministry of Livestoc and FisheriesSouth Sudan

The awareness been raised to the farmers on use of ICTs simple technologies will enhance the livelihood of the farmers especially those who live in the rural areas, they are the most vulnerable for effect of climate change

Thembani Malapela
Thembani MalapelaFood and Agriculture Organization of the United NationsItaly

Thank you Andre and also Ajit, both for the opening remarks and also for setting the tone for this discussion.

Dear participants, we warmly welcome you all and we gladly let you know the floor is open for your contributions. Looking forward to your submissions. I wish you, on behalf of e-Forum moderators, the best discussions.

For any questions, kindly send e-mail at e-agriculture@fao.org or consult this blog on how to post in the forum.

Co-Forum Moderator

There is an acute shortage of awareness in this field. While the technology developers do not know the exact requirements and the farmers do not know whom to approach. the university people are bit too busy in their own world of academic papers and acheivements. This should serve the needy.

Use of ICT for disease surveillance is an excellent idea, would like to hear if it is to be targeted to specific diseases or crops or general area or what ?

more light on specific applications/ needs is very much required.

Ajit Maru
Ajit MaruFood and Agriculture Organization of the United NationsItaly

It can be both i.e. specific crop or area though for the Dantewada University I would focus on area. What we need is farmers and extension agents reporting incidence of a pest or disease through SMS/MMS (for photo or video) what they observe which would also give time and space of recording the so called incidence. The SMS and photo/video can be used to validate the pest/disease (there are several apps that also use image processing to aid this process) as also ground truth the incidence. Mapped on a GIS System (with other data shown as layers), the spread and direction of spread can be plotted. This contributes to developing and operation a disease and pest surveillance and monitoring system and coupled to other data related to the disease or pest, crop, farming conditions etc. into an epidemiological system that with adequate data can be used to manage and forecast for prevention outbreaks of the disease and pest.


Ajit Maru, Ahmedabad