Participants at the ICT4D Conference at Hyderabad, India. Photo: S Punna, ICRISAT

Global initiative to harness the power of big data for smallholder farmers

Participants at the ICT4D Conference at Hyderabad, India. Photo: S Punna, ICRISAT

Participants at the ICT4D Conference at Hyderabad, India. Photo: S Punna, ICRISAT

A new multimillion-dollar initiative is poised to disrupt food production across the developing world – to make it more productive, efficient and resilient – through the power of information.

The CGIAR Platform for Big Data in Agriculture was launched at the 9th Annual ICT4D Conference being held in Hyderabad, India.

Mr KT Rama Rao, Minister for Information Technology, Government of Telangana, speaking at the conference. Photo: S Punna, ICRISAT

Mr KT Rama Rao, Minister for Information Technology, Government of Telangana, speaking at the conference. Photo: S Punna, ICRISAT

The Platform aims to exploit the capabilities of big data to accelerate and enhance the impact of international agricultural research especially on the most vulnerable of regions and populations. The big data initiative will bring together thousands of experts – from crop scientists at universities and research organizations to computer programmers at some of the world’s leading technology firms. They will collect, collate and analyze vast amounts of data on crops, weather, soils and more, with the aim of producing some of the most precise and reliable recommendations for farmers, governments and policymakers in developing countries.

The Platform’s focus will be to:

Organize – data on soils, climate, crops and more will be organized, standardized and made publicly available by the organizations that generate it. The Platform will begin by prioritizing the free and open sharing of data held by researchers at the 15 CGIAR  centers – the world’s largest network of agricultural research organizations.

Convene – foster new partnerships between the agricultural science and technology sectors in order to bring together the best minds, and accelerate progress towards achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Inspire – put the data and partnerships into practice via a USD 4 million fund to support innovative projects with big data approaches at their core, such as real-time monitoring of pest outbreaks, or site-specific recommendations for farmers on water and fertilizer use.

“If we’re going to achieve the United Nations’ SDGs of increasing food production, reducing poverty and tackling climate change, one of the quickest ways will be to close the digital divide between rich and poor farmers,” said Jawoo Koo of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), at the inauguration of the Platform. “This will help ensure the world’s farmers and policymakers are making informed choices that produce the biggest impacts. The CGIAR Platform aims to do exactly that.”

Dr David Bergvinson, Director General, ICRISAT, called big data “a potential game changer for agriculture as it can offer excellent value along the entire agricultural value chain…”

Hosting a panel discussion on the capacity of big data to influence social change, Dr Bergvinson said, “Big data is blurring the boundaries between industries. This innovation in the way we collect, analyze and act on data is what can help drive impact for sustainable and equitable development.” Panelists gave real-life examples of how big data could help derive insights into infrastructure, gender, health, food security, as well as business and social development.

The CGIAR Platform for Big Data in Agriculture is jointly led by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), in partnership with tech giants including IBM and Amazon. The six-year initiative will provide global leadership in organizing open data, convening partners to develop innovative solutions, and demonstrating the power of big data analytics through inspiring projects that focus on improving agriculture in developing countries, and informing policymakers.

The big data project was launched on 15 May and the plenary panel discussion took place on 16 May at the ICT4D Conference.

The 9th Annual ICT4D conference was held in Hyderabad, India during 15-18 May 2017. It focused on the ways in which technology solutions could allow data to accelerate the achievement of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Approximately 1,000 individuals attended the conference—technical experts from a myriad of disciplines, representatives of governmental, non-governmental and private sector organizations, and individuals from countries across the globe.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's message to ICRISAT.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s message to ICRISAT.

Partners: Catholic Relief Services, Mercy Corps, World Vision, NetHope, the Anudip Foundation, Dalberg, the Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL), the Environmental Systems Research Institute (Esri), iMerit Technology Services, and the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). The team is supported by Microsoft, Google Earth Outreach, CGIAR, Cyient, Digital Globe, DuPont, Oxfam, aWhere/GDA, and RTI International.
This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal   

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