At the Global Forum for Innovations in Agriculture (GFIA) in Utrecht, Netherlands, we talked to André Laperrière, Executive Director of the Global Open Data Initiative for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN), about tackling current and future challenges in food production, for example in Africa.
It is estimated that by 2050 there will be almost 10 billion people living on earth – about 2.2 billion more than today! According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 815 million people were undernourished in 2016. Looking at these numbers, it is tempting to simply say agricultural production must be increased. We talked with André Laperrière of GODAN about how innovations and new technologies can help us make better use of the available resources.
Mr. Laperrière, is it at all possible to feed the growing world population?
“To feed the entire population in the future will indeed be challenging. But it is possible. Take Africa, for example. In terms of agriculture, Africa has incredible potential. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that only 20 to 25 percent of the agricultural potential in Africa is currently used. That means people in Africa could produce four to five times more food. It goes without saying that this needs to happen without affecting the environment. How can this happen? By improving agricultural practices, and this is where we can support them.”
Could you tell us more about that?
“Farming in the developing world is usually done based more on traditions than on available data. However, in times of climate change this causes significant problems. For example, a lot of farmers are still planting on a specific day, year after year. But planting on a fixed date every year without relying on actual weather data can have devastating results on their yield. Seasons are moving and farmers have to adapt to the weather conditions and plant earlier or later in the year. Data helps mitigate the impact of extreme weather events.”
How can data be used in food production?
“For one, for traceability measures. Consumers like to know where their food is coming from. We’re working with many partners to trace food. Block chain technology, for example, is a promising tool to help track food as it moves up the value chain because it allows us to trace and understand every single step of any transaction. In general, data can make farming more sustainable. And there are already many examples of farmers who were able to improve their yields within the same surface by up to 30 percent – for instance by using weather data. Furthermore, with data, costs can be reduced through more efficient resource management such as precision irrigation, which reduces water consumption and costs.”
Coming back to Africa: could you give us more insights into your projects there?
“In Africa, we work with female farmers who face a number of difficulties. In developing countries, farming – and, as a matter of fact, society in general – is essentially a male-dominant environment. In reality, however, farms are often managed by women. But due to local laws and tradition, oftentimes this is not recognized. We’re working with governments to help them change policies so that women can also own land and acknowledge their contribution to the economy. Working together with local women farmer associations is very important here, and we need to give a voice not only to farmers – but to women farmers.”
How many partners does GODAN work with?
“More than 700 organizations from all across the world are members of GODAN. Above all, agriculture benefits from cross-sector collaboration. That’s why we have very diversified partners, some of them in the telecommunications sector. Our mission is to share best practices, key innovations, and key data. Partnerships allow us to mix expertise. Finding solutions to provide the world with sufficient and sustainable nutritious food only works with collaboration. We believe that through cooperation we will be able to address the challenges ahead of us. Only together can we make this world stronger.”
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