Co-creating an Industry Standard for Sharing Agricultural Data Globally

2.5 billion smallholder farmers globally make daily decisions to protect their livelihoods and feed their communities. These farmers receive a staggering amount of information each day from government extension agents, private agribusinesses, and NGOs. With little coordination between these actors, farmers are given information and services that they didn’t demand and can’t use and are forced to make decisions about who they can trust. As climate change increasingly threatens production, and as supply chains are disrupted by crises like COVID-19, the divide between what is needed and what is offered continues to grow.

We have been working towards developing agri-tech solutions to boost the incomes of small-scale farmers. Building on more than ten years of experience with 2 million farmers across South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, we’re now leading the development of FarmStack, an agricultural data-sharing platform to enable organizations and individuals to transfer data through peer-to-peer connectors governed by usage policies that codify data sovereignty and control.

On August 20th,  we were invited along with Hewlett Packard Enterprise & Microsoft to participate in a World Bank led webinar series on ‘Co-creating an industry standard for sharing agricultural data globally. The discussions focused on farmers and the organizations that serve them don’t have an easy and secure way to exchange data which leads to fragmentation and silos; and

  • We need to co-create a public infrastructure that automates the discovery, transfer, and transformation of agricultural data to address this challenge.

There will be two parts of the session; in the first part Rikin Gandhi, co-founder of Digital Green, will present the motivation & architecture of FarmStack with practical use cases. The second part will be a conversation with Lin Nease from Hewlett Packard Enterprises & Ranveer Chandra from Microsoft, on ways to co-create public infrastructure to automate the discovery, transfer, and transformation of agricultural data.

Rikin Gandhi from Digital Green shared the journey of why DG first decided to develop FarmStack, an agricultural data-sharing platform that enables data transfer through peer to peer connectors governed by usage policies that codify data sovereignty and control. He shared the vision for a decentralized architecture & how this effort fits alongside others (e.g., via CGIAR big data, GEMS, World Bank, HPE, GovLab, etc). With an example of a chili farmer in India, he shared how FarmStack can power multiple use cases (You can find his presentation here & a video link to an example use case here)

Rikin was then joined by Lin Nease from HPE, and Ranveer Chandra from Microsoft in a discussion on how each organization is trying to address challenges ranging from data discovery, privacy, security, and balancing incentives. Lin shared how they are supporting automated data discovery by developing data pipelines to enable easier exchange of data, data flow tracking, and data that is easier to find; & Ranveer shared Microsoft’s pioneering work with FarmBeats to make data more usable through visualizations & analytics, as well as more secure through Microsoft Azure’s Confidential Compute service for hardware-level encryption. They discussed the wide variation in availability and quality of data between the Global South and North.

Stewart Collis from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation highlighted the efforts of Gates Foundation & USAID to support the development of a supportive data ecosystem as a key enabling factor and encouraged all actors to consider how their actions and policies contribute to data governance norms and the emerging ecosystem. Laura Ralston from World Bank urged the group to look at data regulations & its implications, and find champions who can drive this effort forward.

Finally, Parmesh Shah from World Bank guided us through audience questions on implications of government policies (e.g., GDPR), the role of blockchain technology while continuing to highlight the importance of involving national and local governments in owning and sustaining such data-sharing platforms.

In case you missed it, you can watch the recording right here! We look forward to hearing your ideas and learning from your experience at contact@digitalgreen.org

A Youthful Vision of the Future of Food

 

This week as the world celebrates World Food Day and International Day of Rural Women, the global community will come together to collectively focus our attention on strategies to achieve zero hunger by 2030. We’ll highlight the challenge of climate change, revel at the promise and possibilities of new technologies, and again remind ourselves of the urgency if we are to sustainably nourish a population of 9.7 billion by mid-century. But some very important actors will largely not be part of these conversations: the children and youth that will be shouldering these burdens and marshaling solutions in the decades to come, when many of us have stepped back. Of course, engaging youth in agriculture isn’t just something to plan for in the future, it’s something we need to do to meet today’s challenges. In sub-Saharan Africa where the population will double by 2050, there are already an estimated 12 million new jobs needed per year to absorb the new entrants to the job market. So what do we do to go beyond the rhetoric of inspiring and including youth to actually engaging them and employing them to create solutions?

Today we have a new resource to help us: I have the pleasure of announcing the launch of a much-awaited report from the Feed the Future Developing Local Extension Capacity (DLEC) project entitled: “Engaging Young Agripreneurs: Options to Include Youth in Private Sector Extension and Advisory Services in Rwanda and Uganda”. This study reviewed 37 initiatives engaging youth across extension and advisory services (EAS), both as providers and as recipients of these services. These included a range of models including agripreneurship training, internships, paraprofessional services, fee-based services and financial services. The report contains rich analysis and 10 key recommendations to achieve better outcomes when engaging youth. Some highlights include: appreciating the diversity of approaches to engagement and their unique contributions, encouraging a supportive policy enabling environment and recognizing and designing for the diversity of needs and experiences contained within the ‘youth’ category (often spanning 15-25+).  

While this report focuses on employment and opportunity, some argue we should begin even earlier when it comes to including youth. Yesterday, I moderated a panel, on the sidelines of the World Food Prize, focused on school-based agriculture education and panelists discussed plans to spark a movement to increase access to this engaging, exciting and unique approach to learning. The methodology discussed at this event, modeled after the Future Farmers of America, has been adapted and adopted in several locations throughout the world. It not only focuses on the ‘hard skills’ and science of agriculture, which is often brought back home to the farm, but also the ‘soft skills’, like leadership, preparing young people to succeed in the future, whatever they pursue. 

What is clear is that more holistic, coordinated and deliberate inclusion of youth is needed in the decision-making shaping our future food system. We need the energy, youthful proclivity to adopt technology and try new things, and so many other talents of young people to meet the rising challenges we’re all facing.

If you’d like to read more about youth in extension or explore the broader body of work of DLEC, check out the DLEC project page here and on Agrilinks.