Putting Data to Work for Food Security

Kudos to USAID for launching a Food Security Open Data Challenge!  This announcement kicks off an exciting few months, during which USAID will bring together technologists, food security experts, entrepreneurs, and others to work with key datasets and determine how they can support solutions to the most pressing issues in food security. 

There is a lot of talk about data these days.  Much of the conversation so far has focused on data availability, but new efforts like this one are focusing on data utilization.  The Challenge aims to stimulate the creation of new applications, services, and insights by creative entrepreneurs to improve access to nutritious food for the nearly one billion people who go hungry around the world.

It’s surprising how many types of data can be relevant to agriculture.  Already weather data from NASA satellites are being used in drought forecasting programs such as the Famine Early Warning Systems Network(FEWS NET) and SERVIR.  We could do more with this data, and explore utilization of GIS, market, crop, nutrition, infrastructure, and other data to improve global food security.

Over the next few months, the Food Security Open Data Challenge will have three key components:

  • an Ideation Jam where technologists and agriculture stakeholders will identify key innovation opportunities by focusing on the overlap of food security priorities and the potential of available data;
  • a Codeathon to create and finalize solutions that are available for investment; and
  • a Datapalooza, hosted by USAID Administrator Raj Shah, to announce challenge winners and showcase some of the best ideas for data-based solutions to food security.

The Challenge builds on a number of Administration priorities, such as the Open Government Initiativeand the Open Data Initiatives Programannounced this week by U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park, and of course Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, and the recent G8 announcement of a New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition

Data sets of all types are welcome and needed – if you are have or know of a data set you think might be useful that could be made publicly available, please get involved.  If you are a data scientist or other technologist who can use new tools to make use of data in innovative ways; if you are an agriculture expert, a product chain expert, or have another type of expertise; if you are a student or entrepreneur—with or without a background in agriculture—who likes to come up with creative solutions to hard problems; if you are any of these things or otherwise interested, please get involved.

I look forward to seeing the innovative insights and solutions that come from this Food Security Open Data Challenge.  Here’s to an exciting few months! 

Learn more and participate at http://www.agrilinks.org/openagdata.

Hillary Chen is a Senior Advisor to the Deputy Director, Global Development, at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy