The second of four forums organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) and partners, the forum is targeted at experts from senior government, academia and NGOs.
Strengthening access to agricultural science and technical information (Open Data and Open Science*) in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is vital if Africa is to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to ending hunger, alleviating poverty, gender equality, climate change and health.
Due to challenges at both an institutional and national level much agriculture-related data produced in SSA isn’t visible or accessible, hindering any meaningful impact on food security in the region. A UN report found that in 2015 more than 40% of the population of SSA was still living in poverty and that the region faces daunting challenges with regards rapid population growth, high levels of poverty and conflicts. Data has become a key asset for agricultural transformation in Africa. Indeed greater access to and sharing of agricultural data and science are two of the keys to unlocking change, allowing innovative solutions to be developed to address food insecurity and poverty on the continent.
However, in order for Open Data and Open Science initiatives to make any meaningful impact on SDGs and on the lives of Africans, most of whom make a living in the rural domain, they must draw together and galvanize players from the full agricultural spectrum.
An enabling environment where agricultural researchers and experts can share their innovations on open platforms is imperative. Farmers, rural populations and development specialists must also be empowered to adopt new innovative technologies and solutions aimed at combatting hunger and poverty in the region.
Sustainable Development Goals
As the eight Millennium Development Goals of the last 15 years came to a conclusion in 2015, a new set of transformative Sustainable Development Goals took their place. While the MDGs made huge strides on a global scale towards eradicating extreme poverty and inequality, development in SSA has been patchy and the challenge is now on to transform the demands of the new SDGs into action.
Formally signed by the UN in September 2015 The 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda included 17 new goals and 169 targets with individual governments expected to create national frameworks for achieving them.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon described the new SDGs as a “shared vision of humanity, and a to-do list for people and planet and a blueprint for success”.
The new SDGs go a step further than the MDGs, addressing the root causes of poverty and the universal need for development. They place increased emphasis on the three dimensions of sustainable development: economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection. With the spotlight increasingly on sustainability, Open Data and Open Science initiatives in agriculture in Africa come into even sharper focus.
Goal of the forums
The chief objective of the forums is to provide a dialogue platform where senior agricultural experts in SSA can articulate some of the challenges to Open Data and Open Science and propose possible strategies.
The forum in Namibia, where around half the population depends largely on subsistence agriculture for a living and the national level of income inequality is one of the highest in the world, asks how enhancing access to Open Data and Science in agriculture can enable the country and indeed, SSA to fulfill SDGs.
Senior experts in agriculture will:
- exchange knowledge on institutional and national initiatives aimed at enhancing access to agricultural data science
- share knowledge and discuss national global trends on data and science access
- discuss potential mechanisms for enhanced knowledge sharing initiatives in agriculture in SSA.
- A common understanding the role of open data and open science in achieving Africa’s SDGs.
- Clarification of the institutional, national and regional policy implications for open data and open science
- Agreement on the mechanisms, technologies and standards for sharing open data and open science initiatives
Spearheaded by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO of the UN), the collective forums in Kenya (June 2015), Namibia (April 2016), Ghana (July 2016) and Tanzania (May 2016) gather together senior specialists from policy, research information and technology in agriculture and related fields.
In Namibia two senior policy panel discussions will be followed by facilitated discussions in plenary. Panelists include high profile experts in agricultural and rural development, science, technology and library and information management from Namibia and the sub region.
Part II of the Namibia forum (19-20 April 2016) is a two-day workshop on access to scientific information in agriculture. Transforming the overarching theme of the forum into practical training sessions, the workshop is targeted at agriculture information workers with the core focus on Access to Global Online Research in Agriculture (AGORA)
The first forum in Kenya
44 participants gathered in Nairobi in June 2015 (see photo above) where they agreed that Open Science and Open Data requires an enabling environment framework, including appropriate policies and strategies on a governmental and institutional level. Furthermore, researchers and scientists required a more rewarding system that supports open publishing and collaborative research work, especially with regard to young scientists.
One of the key issues is a lack of understanding of the mechanics of Open Data and Open Science with unclear intellectual property rights policies leading to an "over protection" of data.
However, the forum highlighted several Kenyan initiatives already in place to support open science and to foster processes to improved access to agricultural data. Advocacy on an institutional and governmental level was a key recommendation and the Kenya Agricultural Information Network (KAINet) secretariat and member institutions are focused on driving this forward.
Scheduled follow-ups to the forum will be aimed at consolidating permanent dialogue between stakeholders.
Forum on Open Data and Open Science in Agriculture in Nambia
The forum takes place on 18th April at the Avani Hotel in Windhoek, Namibia - speakers to be confirmed. It is co-organized by FAO alongside the National University of Namibia (UNAM), GODAN, Information Training and Outreach Centre for Africa (ITOCA), and Research4Life.
Since 1975 FAO has supported initiatives aimed at opening up access to agricultural data. It is currently working closely alongside several partners, including the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN), Open Agriculture Knowledge for Development (CIARD), and Research4Life to improve access to available agriculture and nutrition data, with a view to contributing to enhance food security in Africa. All four forums are part of this initiative.
Namibia: 18 – 20 April 2016
Tanzania: 23 – 25 May 2016
Ghana: 11 – 13 July 2016
*Open data is the idea that certain data should be freely available to everyone to use and republish as they wish, without restrictions from copyright, patents or other mechanisms of control.
Open science is the umbrella term of the movement to make scientific research, data and dissemination accessible to all levels of an inquiring society, amateur or professional. It encompasses practices such as publishing open research, campaigning for open access, encouraging scientists to practice open notebook science, and generally making it easier to publish and communicate scientific knowledge."