What investments are needed to reap open data benefits and what measures must be adopted to protect farmers from open data?

Muchiri Nyaggah
Muchiri NyaggahLocal Development Research Institute Kenya

Reaping the benefits of open data requires policy actors to think about the macro environment within which data lives, above and beyond the specific focus on open data. It also requires making a deliberate connection between an effort to open up data with a specific development agenda being pursued. For instance, an exploration of the types of investments needed to unlock value in open data would need to examine the state of e-government in the country and specifically within the ministries responsible for agriculture and their 'thematically adjacent' peers. In many instances, the investments that have been made on e-government were explicitly connected to service delivery objectives designed to empower citizens and reduce barriers to access such as geography.

Holistic Investments for Open Data

At LDRI, we study this area using a four-part framework looking at the following aspects which, in my view, are where investments should be targeted as a priority;

  1. Policy for data (and open data): Does the policy/legal framework in place provide an enabling environment for collection, use, analysis and sharing (opening) of data across ministries, departments and agencies?
  2. Financial Resourcing: Does the government make or have available the financial resources to address the gaps in data collection, analysis, and dissemination? To what extent is this resourced by development partners (speaks to sustainability)
  3. Infrastructure: Is the e-government software, hardware and network infrastructure in place to ensure digital origination of administrative data (at the least) and survey/census data (ideally)? Is the infrastructure in place to open up the data in formats that are electronically appropriate and easily discoverable?
  4. Human capital: Do the staffs have the requisite skills to collect, manage, analyze, communicate and disseminate the data? If there are terabytes upon terabytes of data available but no staff who can use it or apply institutional policy to open it there will be little progress.

Holistic Approaches to Open Data

Ensuring the right policy/legal frameworks are in place and enforced is key to protecting farmers from exploitation, especially where personally identifiable information is concerned. This cannot be addressed without taking a rights-based approach to open data. Ultimately, open data is only a means of implementation for a development agenda that seeks to address the challenges preventing people from realising their objectives and exercising their agency. Preventing misuse of open data is all but impossible due to the nature of open data. But in a governance environment where there is a narrow digital divide and low inequality, harmful misuse of open data would likely be lower if not absent.

However, although preventing misuse of open data in its entirety is impossible, it is possible to empower farmers so they don't remain vulnerable. One way of doing this is to ensure the data, as well as insights being derived from it, are made available at the grassroots to the greatest extent possible. This means working with grassroots organisations to build their digital literacy and capacity as well as educating the masses on their rights. It also means using a variety of channels/tools to get the curated data to rural communities, beyond the web tools and mobile apps that may be easier to deploy in urban and more tech savvy communities. FM Radio, public gatherings and print media still remain the 'killer apps'  for dissemination in rural communities across the global south.

In summary, therefore, I suggest two broad ideas:

  1. Think beyond open data to the broader macro environment in the public sector within which data originates in order to identify the priority areas to put investment guided by the local context.
  2. Take a rights-based approach to open data in order to ensure policy and legal frameworks support the development of citizen agency and protect farmers from harmful practices.


Sean Rogers
Sean RogersGenesis Innovative SolutionTrinidad and Tobago

Dear Muchiri, 

In reading, I would like to promote your focus on the bottom-up approach, the use of traditional media, and ensuring that the rights of the farmers are protected. You also looked at the broader picture where all activity is taking place. We understand there is a need for policies and frameworks to be put into place, we are also aware of the length of time it takes to implement, moreover we are aware of the need to build human capacity and the aspects to be built.  

Therefore we need to work with what we have in place, focus on not only building human capacity in term of technical but human right and legal knowledge so when the time comes for policies and framework the said grassroots can also make a meaningful contribution to it after it seeks to protect the rights.

Justin Chisenga
Justin ChisengaFood and Agriculture OrganizationItaly

Dear Muchiri,
I fully agree with you.
Considering that individuals work in organizations which also operate within a given environment, I would also add investment in building organizational capacity. Among others, organizations, especially public institutions, should have clear mandates to open up the data; have internal processes in place, including clear guidelines for staff to facilitate generation and access to data; and establish collaboration and knowledge sharing mechanism/platforms to facilitate inter-organizational collaboration and avoid duplication of efforts.

Sonigitu Ekpe-Aji
Sonigitu Ekpe-AjiMinitry of International Development CooperationNigeria

Dear Justin,

Thanks for the veiw you have put up as per organisational capacity investment.

Please permit me to defer from your point. Strengthen organistional ethics through commitment of staff is one key ingreident. We all are aware that organisations are set up with clear mandates and human capacity to drive such mandates, but the bureaucratic management theory has led to many hinderances for effective performances as personal gains or influence is always at play.

My questions shall be,

  1. How can organisations be monitored and evaluated to avoid derailing within their mandates?
  2. What approaches are required for effective expertise engagement to ensure proper delivery of the stautory functions of these organisation? 
  3. What do we need to structure organizations to remain more focus on key needs rather than grabbing more that they can handle?
  4. Are the required tools and financing provided for effective functioning based on their manadates, if no why?
Raghavendra Yadav
Raghavendra YadavUniversity of Horticultural Sciences Bagalkot India

Dear Sea,

I agree with your points which you mentioned above these are the mandate questions for the beterment of opendata

Commitment of Staff is most important aspect towards open data


The "open data" benefits vs risks discussion has some parallels to the debate about "access and benefit sharing" of genetic resources. Both have the potential to impact farmers and/or traditional owners in positive or negative ways and have the potential to create conflicts with external agencies.

Some time ago took a look at how governments tried to deal with this issue, in particular the consequences of introducing intellectual property rights and other measures to "protect" the rights of traditional owners, farmers and others. It's a couple of pages so I don't want to post the whole thing here, but you can download the article if you wish.

On balance it seemed to me that these measures done in the name of access and benefit sharing have done more harm than good. Why? Because they typically involve restricting access to data, thereby stifling the very research required to develop benefits in the first place. The fisheries example in the article is a personal experience.

To my mind the potential benefits of open data vastly outweigh the potential risks. Farmers also tend to be naturally sceptical and conservative about sharing information with governments and other external agents, so I do not see them as powerless in this particular sense.

Thembani Malapela
Thembani MalapelaFood and Agriculture Organization of the United NationsItaly

Dear Naca,

You raised some interesting comments on data rights and also your attached case. Would you want to expound more, also perhaps summarise the case for the benefit of all, maybe 1 or 2 paragraphs?

Thembani Malapela

On behalf of the moderators

Thembani Malapela
Thembani MalapelaFood and Agriculture Organization of the United NationsItaly

I will remove my hat as a moderator and make also a contribution.

In my view there are also investments that are needed with the Ministry capacities of both Agriculture and central statistics offices. For developing countries to also enjoy the benefits of open data there is a need for institution capacities. In many cases some of the national offices do not have the relavant technological infrastructure to handle big data and let alone process it. The lack of investment in these areas hamper the curation of data. In most cases the infrastructure that exist is dedicated to fiscal services such as collecting taxes and processing funds. 

The other element is that of functional responsibilities, who is responsible for keeping data in governmental institutions? In most developing countries the National Central Statistical Offices are responsible for keeping this data. The Ministry of agriculture or any other becomes the data generator and would necessary focus on the primary use of data, and there after handover to the NCSO. In the path to open data there is need to allow for workflows and safe guard against data loss due to functional changes and also data should be properly managed to ensure that it makes meaning beyond the primary use. 

Therefore, the NCSO should have infrastructural mantle to handle data and let alone to make their data open and adopt open data standards that are widely accepted. Any Open Data Charter that is silent on data infrastructure will definately leave out the technologically disadvantaged.

Can cloud computing be an option? Would the players in agricultural sector adopt this and by who, especially focusing in developing countries...


Mangusho Robert
Mangusho RobertKween district Uganda

First investment in policy is necessary.

Amparo Ballivian
Amparo BallivianWorld BankUnited States of America

Before I comment on the 3rd question ("~~What investments are needed to reap open data benefits and what precautions are needed to prevent damage to vulnerable farmers from opening data for agriculture and nutrition?") allow me to say taht I agree very much with the comment posted by "naca" saying that the benefits of open data vastly exceed the potential harms to farmers.

Investments to make sure that Open Data benefits the agricultural community inlcude:

- Clear policy, establishing the legal license for data use and re-use. The license (sometimes called "terms of use") has to allow free access to the data, without the need to register, and allow also the data user to use and re-use the data for any purpose, including for commercial purposes. Without this license it can not be called Open data, because there would be no legally-sanctioned reuse of the data.

- Software tools for the Open Data portal and baisc data management. These are not very expensive. There are many open source tools. Even the cost of SaaS (software as a service) for open data is relatively low.

- Continued interaction with data users and application developers, from the starting decision of what data to open, to the development of computer applications that use the data, and everything in between. Data re-use is at the core of Open Data, so knowling very well the people who will re-use the data is key to the success of the program. Keep in mind that there are many data intermediaries, so data is not consumed directly from the publisher. Re-users include academia, media, app developers, other government departments, private sector and others.

- Data quality reviews. This includes producing and publishing metadata (and hopefully giving API access to both the data and the metadata) of every data set in the Open Data portal, as well as checking for accuracy, timeliness, consistency, freqeuncy and other quality attributes of the data to be opened. Many coutnries have used the Open Data program as a way to improve the quality of data by asking users to report data problems and interacting with them to solve data quality issues.

To see a brief on the needed investments, I recomend reading "Open Data in 60 Seconds" at http://opendatatoolkit.worldbank.org/en/

In terms fo risks, the only one I can think of is privacy risk and this pertains only to personal information. There are no risks in many of the data that are typically opened: meteorology, yields, prices and other market info, ag property prices, land quality and access, ag science data and many other datasets. All of these do not inlcude information on individuals, so there are no privacy risks.