11) Open Data for agriculture vital to global food security

Sharing publicly-funded agricultural data critical in helping feed the world’s growing population

Hyderabad, India (9 May 2013) – Making agricultural research, knowledge and information more widely available is part of a growing global movement to ensure that agricultural knowledge contributes to greater food security, especially in developing countries.

At the G-8 International Conference on Open Data for Agriculture held last week at the World Bank, USA, G-8 members and partners deliberated on options for the establishment of a global platform to make reliable agricultural and related information available to farmers, researchers and policymakers in Africa and the whole world.

Dr Rajeev Varshney (2nd from left) as a panelist at the G-8 International Conference on Open Data for Agriculture held at the World Bank, USA. (Photo: ICRISAT)

“Open Data in genomics and modern breeding is vital in developing superior crop varieties with traits important to smallholder farmers towards food security and improved livelihoods,” said Dr Rajeev Varshney, Director of the Center of Excellence in Genomics (CEG) of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). Presenting the work of ICRISAT and its partners like the CGIAR Generation Challenge Programme (GCP) at the G-8 conference, he stressed that managing and openly sharing extensive data from genome sequencing and re-sequencing projects will revolutionize molecular breeding works for crop improvement. ICRISAT is a member of the CGIAR Consortium.

“With the vast genomics and modern breeding data coming from different organizations, there is a need to have a centralized data and computational analysis center linked with genomics, climate, phenotyping and breeding data centers. This will make possible global breeding through cloud computing wherein data from one location is applied to other locations,” Dr Varshney added.

Also representing ICRISAT to the meeting was Dr Dileepkumar Guntuku, Global Leader, Knowledge Sharing and Innovation, who participated in the discussions and shared ICRISAT’s Green Open Access Policy being adopted by the Institute since 2009. The policy advocates the availability of research results by posting them free onto a repository/website (in the form of publications, data, videos, audio, images, etc.) for the global community to access to achieve greater impacts. This is realized through ICRISAT’s Open Access Repository (OAR), where research publications and outputs are made available for partners and stakeholders particularly in the developing world without any restriction.

“The Open Data movement leveraging on data, collaboration, and innovation will definitely accelerate crop improvement for sustainable food production particularly in the marginal environments of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa,” said Dr William D. Dar, ICRISAT Director General, in the aftermath of the conference. Shared knowledge and data can cut time and cost in developing high-yielding, nutritious, and drought-tolerant crops that are the best bets for smallholder farmers to survive and improve their livelihoods amid the threat of climate change.

“ICRISAT is committed to make its research data particularly from its genomics project as Open Data,” Dr Dar added. The genome sequence data for both pigeonpea and chickpea generated by ICRISAT and its partners have been made publicly available on the Nature Biotechnology journal, downloaded more than 10,000 times each since.

 “We are pleased to see ICRISAT’s commitment to Open Data and Open Access. We all need to come forward now and join such initiatives to meet the demands of future agricultural research,” said Dr Swapan Datta, Deputy Director General for Crop Science, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).

“Molecular markers for drought tolerance in chickpea identified by ICRISAT were made available to us as Open Data and we have made the best use of those markers by introgressing drought tolerance in elite chickpea varieties in Kenya,” stressed Dr Paul Kimurto from Egerton University, Kenya.

“The CGIAR Generation Challenge Programme (GCP) is partnering with ICRISAT, other CGIAR Centers, as well as collaborators in developing and developed countries, to define and implement strategies for managing and broadly sharing crop data and information through GCP’s Integrated Breeding Platform (IBP). We do this in partnership with, and with the support of, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,” said Dr Jean-Marcel Ribaut, GCP Director, based in Mexico.

The inaugural session of the G-8 International Conference on Open Data for Agriculture featured messages from Mr Tom Vilsack, Secretary (Agriculture) from the US government; Bill Gates (by video) of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Ms Rachel Kyte, Vice President, World Bank; and Mr Todd Park, Chief Technology Officer, White House, USA.

The G-8 conference on open data held on 29-30 April and organized by the US and UK Governments was attended by hundreds of delegates from the G-8 group of nations, US government officials, private sector partners, Open Data advocates, technology experts, and nonprofit organization leaders. Built on the 2012 New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition G-8 initiative, the conference focused 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 already underway and making positive change in the Open Data in agriculture arena of the world.

Video link: ICRISAT at the G-8 International Conference on Open Data for Agriculture

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