The vast majority of smallholder farmers have little access to agricultural information or advisory services. Donors, understanding that digital development and the application of data can help bring practical knowledge and solutions to farmers, are increasingly investing in technology-focused grants and projects.
There is a tendency to move immediately to technology development without understanding how data needs to flow to those who need it, and the data policies and practices to safeguard the project’s success. This ‘tech-first’ mindset has resulted in the development of digital resources aimed at agriculture and food systems which fail to achieve their greatest potential.
CABI’s expertise in data policy and practice help donors address this challenge and create a solid foundation for digital and data management success.
When applied to data, it is widely believed that FAIR principles – making data Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable – enable more effective collecting, storing and sharing of data.
These principles can be applied to both technical and non-technical constraints. For data to be FAIR, we must not only address technology issues but also people and processes.
Any digital and data ecosystem is much more than the technology. Digital development initiatives succeed when the focus is placed initially, even counterintuitively, on people and processes, including managing and sharing the data that supports the technology.
We know there is a better way of implementing technological solutions. Human-centred design – a system of thinking where solutions are developed by focusing on user needs and the problems users face – is essential.
This is why we start with people and processes and then technology. We help donors ask and answer the questions that ensure the fundamental building blocks of data management are in place before the technology is built and implemented.
Our data policy and practice expertise
We offer a range of data policy and practice skills for donors. We develop tools and data-driven approaches to sustainable development. Our core strengths in data policy and practice help donors address problems related to data management:
We take a holistic view of projects to understand ad hoc and reoccurring barriers to good data practices. We perform stakeholder analyses to reveal all actors involved, creating a snapshot of the current situation and where constraints lie.
We help funders and implementing agencies design projects. We employ a human-centred design approach, designing into the project the people and processes needed to ensure a successful technological intervention.
We review projects and make recommendations for policy change or development. We look at open data policies and revise them to reflect the FAIR framework.
Mainstreaming and good practice
We review projects and develop standardised data policies and processes to ensure longevity and sustainability, allowing us to understand reoccurring obstacles and address them to create an effective, efficient development path.
Best practice tools and resources
We provide tools and resources to help funders apply best practice throughout their data policy and practice work.
Using our expertise in digital development, we turn data and science-based knowledge into actionable, practical information that addresses real needs such as helping to prevent and tackle invasive crop pests. This helps to transform smallholder farmers’ livelihoods and helps agricultural and environmental professionals be more effective in their work.
To find out more about working with us on data policy and practice, contact us.
Examples of our work
In Rwanda, agricultural productivity can be dramatically improved with accurate soil and agronomy data, helping farmers make better decisions for their land, but this data is currently not shared between stakeholders. CABI is supporting the development of the Rwanda Soil Information Service (RwaSIS) which will help address these issues. Incorporating FAIR data principles will ensure that legacy and new investments in soil research result in better decision-making for Rwandan farmers.
The Data Sharing Toolkit
When agricultural data is shared effectively, farmers can make informed farming decisions and produce healthier crops. For example, CABI is working with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to facilitate better data-driven decisions in national systems. Through the project, guidelines, recommendations and tools on how to manage and share soil and agronomy data have been developed in Ethiopia and India. The Data Sharing Toolkit developed out of this project will help unlock benefits of FAIR data.
The generation, collection, storage, use and sharing of data can be time-consuming and expensive. Often, effort is duplicated, or the potential value of data is lost because the data cannot be found, accessed, used, or reused. Not all the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s data-rich work has met its potential because data has not been shared or assets have not been used in new contexts. The foundation is committed to unlocking the full value of data in agriculture and food systems through open and interoperable data ecosystems. In this project, CABI will address constraints in realizing the value of data in the foundation’s investments by increasing the capacity and capability of Program Officers, grantees and national systems to initiate and manage change processes towards FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable) and responsible data management.
The effects of soil acidity on agricultural soils in Africa are a major constraint to crop production and sustainable intensification of the African smallholder farming system. To cope, the existing method is to apply blanket or spatially undifferentiated approaches including the use of lime. This project aims to devise interventions to rehabilitate soils in East Africa by understanding and communicating the differences in soil acidity and how to cost-effectively correct them. Based on data, recommendations will guide investments into appropriate and targeted approaches from the public and private sector, ensuring a maximum return on investment for farmers, governments and the private sector. In this project, CABI’s focus is on enhancing access to, and use of, data related to acid soil management including soil and agronomy data which would lead to evidence-based decisions for investments.
The Bill & Melinda Gates foundation has made great progress in the past ten 10 years in exploring new and innovative digital soil mapping technologies and national soil information systems (SIS) in Africa and South Asia to help organise new and existing soil information. However, constraints within countries stop the SIS from being sustainable and adaptable. The foundation is now looking for ways to make the SIS more responsive to local demand. CABI is working with partners to identify what intervention approaches have worked, and which have not, which solutions work best and where to take innovation to scale for SIS development. The process will involve engagement with key stakeholders and decision makers in various countries through an iterative process.