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G-8 open data conference builds food security alliances

By Larry Dreiling

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, along with Bill Gates and U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park, recently led a two-day international open data conference in Washington, saying that data “is among the most important commodities in agriculture” and sharing it openly increases its value.

Vilsack, as head of the U.S. government delegation to the conference, announced the launch of a new “virtual community” as part of a suite of actions, including the release of new data, that the U.S. is taking to give farmers and ranchers, scientists, policy makers and other members of the public easy access to publicly funded data to help increase food security and nutrition.

“The digital revolution fueled by open data is starting to do for the modern world of agriculture what the industrial revolution did for agricultural productivity over the past century,” Vilsack said. “Open access to data will help combat food insecurity today while laying the groundwork for a sustainable agricultural system to feed a population that is projected to be more than 9 billion by 2050.”

The virtual Food, Agriculture, and Rural data community launched on Data.gov—the U.S. government’s data sharing website—to catalogue America’s publicly available agricultural data and increase the ability of the public to find, download, and use datasets that are generated and held by the federal government.

The data community features a collection of more than 300 newly cataloged datasets, databases, and raw data sources related to food, agriculture, and rural issues from agencies across the U.S. government.

In addition to the data catalog, the virtual community shares a number of applications, maps and tools designed to help farmers, scientists and policymakers improve global food security and nutrition.

“Following the commitment of the L’Aquila Summit in 2012, leaders of the G-8 engaged with African partners to foster global food security. In this framework, G-8 members have agreed on the goals of the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition G-8 initiative,” according to a statement issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture following the conference.

“Their goal is to increase public investment in agriculture, accelerate new investments and greater collaboration in agricultural research. This G-8 activity complements the ongoing activities of the Committee on World Food Security and other international organizations.

“The conference…is a direct result of a commitment made in 2012 by leaders of the G-8 to the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. It is the next phase of realizing the shared goal of global food security.”

As part of that commitment, attendees agreed to share relevant agricultural data available from G-8 countries with African partners and convene an international conference on Open Data for Agriculture, 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.

To assure further advancement of opening data globally, several countries have developed and announced plans of action to make agricultural data streams available to users in Africa and worldwide. The implementation of these action plans is an important step in spurring innovation in the agricultural sector and ultimately supporting a sustainable increase in food security and the promotion of adequate nutrition around the world.

Among those countries, the U.S. government released their action plan, highlighting a number of new and ongoing efforts including:

A partnership to support plant and microbial gene bank collections that curate, store and make genetic resources available via the Germplasm Resources Information Network or GRIN-Global;

U.S. leadership in the United Nations Global Strategy to Improve Agricultural and Rural Statistics, providing capacity building support for development and improvement of national agricultural and rural statistics; and

U.S. government efforts underway to develop national policies and implementation plans that ensure direct results of federally funded scientific research are made available and useful for the public, industry, and the scientific community which will effectively implement the White House memorandum titled “Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research,” released earlier this year.

The action plan will also include announcements of new, publicly available datasets from the Millennial Challenge Corporation U.S. Agency for International Development, USDA and others. The private and nonprofit sectors will also announce the release of their own data sets at the conference.

The conference and the U.S. actions supporting open agricultural data fulfill the Open Data for Agriculture commitment made as part of the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, which was launched by President Barack Obama and G-8 partners at the 2012 G-8 Leaders Summit last year at Camp David, Md.

In his remarks, Vilsack thanked the G-8, particularly the United Kingdom, which holds the 2013 G-8 presidency; New Alliance partner countries attending or tuning in to the conference livestream from Sub-Saharan Africa; and the World Bank, for partnering with the G-8 to hold the conference.

Vilsack headed the U.S. government delegation to the conference and USDA’s Chief Scientist, Dr. Catherine Woteki, is acting as alternate head of delegation and providing scientific guidance.

The U.S. delegation included wide representation from federal agencies including the U.S. Agency for International Development; Department of State; Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Millennium Challenge Corporation; National Aeronautics and Space Administration; and National Science Foundation.

“We encourage others to engage in the existing activities which complement this G-8 initiative,” the USDA statement continued.

Among the other action plans that have been publicly released are several common implementation steps. In particular, each of the entities will open existing government-funded data sets to the public while also supporting further research that will be made publicly available in accessible, machine-readable formats.

Each will promote capacity building in developing countries, particularly Africa, with respect to improving the collection of rural statistics and the creation of an open data infrastructure.

“The Washington meeting is an initial step in a long-term process. Numerous topics need to be worked further between G-8 members with partner countries, international organizations, civil society and private sector, such as interoperability of platforms, capacity building to improve access to data, data property, and data confidentiality,” the statement continued.

“To facilitate the emergence and accessibility of open data at large scale, the role of recognized international organizations, as “honest brokers,” needs to be considered. These plans will continue to evolve to address these concerns, but with an end goal of democratizing data in order to spur the creation of new and novel applications that can help feed the world,” the statement concluded.

Larry Dreiling can be reached by phone at 785-628-1117, or by email at ldreiling@aol.com.

Date: 5/20/2013

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