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Supply And Demand For Something Different: How Open Data Can Help End Hunger

While progress is being made in the fight against hunger and food insecurity, almost 800 million people worldwide still suffer from hunger today.

Reducing hunger and food insecurity involves many pieces—smarter agriculture technologies, policy environments that enable sustainable growth in the agricultural sector, and more effective investments in agriculture, both public and private. One critical piece of this puzzle is data. It can inform and make all aspects of the fight to end hunger more effective.

Among all of the data that exists and ways it can be used, one simple type of data is often overlooked or undervalued: standardized data on the investments already being made in the agricultural sector (think who is doing what, where and to what effect?). While straightforward, this data can punch well above its weight in impact by allowing organizations to find out where their resources can make the most difference, and then act accordingly.

Consultation research from the Initiative for Open Ag Funding, led by InterAction, has shown that knowing what others are doing in the sector allows organizations to improve their own planning processes and quickly adapt to make their investments more effective. For example, if an organization publishes information on which crops they are planting in a certain district or region, this gives other organizations the ability to quickly find areas for collaboration with their existing programs. Similarly, this data can help an organization decide to invest in an alternative crop or geographical area for greater impact. As one funder explained, “If all the other organizations are working in maize, we might work in soy or another crop to boost nutrition.” Another funder echoed these sentiments saying it is important to know what other organizations are funding to “find those synergies so we’re not duplicating efforts and can be more efficient and effective together.”

However, this type of information on investments in the agriculture sector is either unavailable, of poor quality, or not comparable due to varying coding standards. Without it, organizations struggle to identify where their resources can have the largest impact, miss opportunities for collaboration, duplicate existing efforts, or even replicate unsuccessful programs. Put plainly, without a clearer picture of current agricultural investments worldwide, the billions of dollars invested in agriculture each year might not be reaching their full potential.

To take an example, if one searches for investments in agriculture in Uganda for 2016 using the leading international standard for reporting on active aid projects, the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), they will find that only 13 percent of 153 reported projects list exact locations of the project. 


Source: www.d-portal.org

It is difficult to target investments when you cannot see detailed locations for 87 percent of the reported programs in the country. Moreover, projects are listed under sectors too broad to be meaningful alone, such as “agriculture development.”

Getting this information is also not as easy as it seems. Organizations must be willing to publish it, which means they must be able to see the value in doing so. Publishing data can be scary for some. For example, working in a certain value chain or having certain partners can be an organization’s comparative advantage when it comes to business or obtaining grant money. It is also not easy (or cheap) to change internal systems for publishing data. But with people depending on smarter investments in the sector for food and better livelihoods, the benefits far outweigh the costs. And those same organizations stand to gain by using this information to improve their own activities.

Of course, this type of data is only one tool in the fight to end hunger. But it is a big tool in regards to its potential impact and it is so often overlooked, perhaps because it is so straightforward. It is also a relatively low hanging fruit—people just need to be more vocal about demanding it. Governments, researchers, agriculture practitioners, think tanks, and companies should all work to publish and pressure others to do the same in a standardized fashion. There is more work to do, but understanding this landscape is well worth the investment.

For more information, or to get involved, please visit the Initiative for Open Ag Funding or follow us on Twitter at @OpenAgFunding.

You can also join our Community of Practice. The Initiative is currently working to improve both the access and use of investment data through tools and technical assistance.


Blog post by Reid Porter, Director, Transparency and Open Data, and David Duffeck, Senior Program Associate, InterAction