By Meredith Perry, Program Manager at Scientists Without Borders
Somali pastorialists measuring rainfall with ILRI researchers. Photo by ILRI.
As many of you are no doubt intimately aware, in low resource settings, data collection is slow, costly, and subject to human error. Agricultural extension researchers regularly travel poor roads across vast geographic distances to collect basic data on soil quality, weather patterns, crop selection, livestock, and yield. This collection is often conducted via peer-to-peer interviews that rely on memory and infrequently standardized measuring tools.
The result is an incomplete data picture that hinders the ability of producers, researchers, and policymakers to identify, implement, and track key conditions and interventions to improve productivity, harvest quality, and human nutritional intake. Furthermore, stakeholders struggle to effectively identify key producers and market leaders to scale successful approaches, and to determine effective and efficient resource allocation and policies. In short, the absence of good data compromises efforts to improve global food security.
Facing the food security consequences associated with pervasive incomplete data collection and aggregation, last year, G-8 leaders announced the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, where they committed to sharing “relevant agricultural data… to develop options for the establishment of a global platform to make reliable agricultural and related information available to African farmers, researchers and policymakers, taking into account existing agricultural data systems.” As part of this commitment, the US Department of Agriculture, in partnership with the G8, hosted an International Conference for Open Data for Agriculture in Washington, DC, from April 28-29, 2013.NASA announcing how their GEO-GLAM (The Group on Earth Observations Global Agricultural Monitoring) project allows researchers to identify weather patterns, to Mars Inc, discussing their plant genomics databank, to Mozambique sharing lessons learned from their initiative to revitalize and make public their national agricultural surveys. Despite these programs, Stanley Wood, the Data and Diagnostics officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, noted that a common refrain among the presenters was not only the challenge of collecting the data, but aggregating and sharing it in a standardized, searchable fashion so that researchers, policymakers and producers could access it across platforms.
With these twin hurdles in mind, at the conference Scientists Without Borders, in partnership with The Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, debuted our own open innovation challenge seeking bold, innovative, feasible, and scalable ideas to leapfrog existing approaches and significantly improve the collection, reporting, aggregation, and sharing of data associated with dairy production and consumption all along the smallholder dairy production value chain in, but not limited to, Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. The challenge will run for 60 days, concluding on July 11, 2013 and student solvers (from the middle school to post-doctoral level) are invited to submit their ideas. More information is available on the Scientists Without Borders website.
Scientists Without Borders is a worldwide, web-based collaborative community dedicated to generating, sharing, and advancing innovative science and technology-based solutions to the world`s most pressing global development challenges.