Case study ● Research

Responsible Data in Agriculture

The agriculture sector is creating increasing amounts of data, but not everyone can access it or has the ability to use it effectively. We researched how power imbalances play an important role in how we think about and use data in the agriculture sector.

Power imbalances

Gradually, governments, businesses and international organisations have begun to recognise the potential of open data in the agriculture sector. But often only the best-resourced actors are able to make the most of new technologies, leaving others are unable to take such risks or divert any of their limited resources.

In 2016, Global Open Data in Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) commissioned us to research power disparities in the agriculture sector and investigate how these imbalances can influence the use of data and technology in agriculture. We looked into how we can identify and address responsible data practices and approaches, and wrote down the key challenges, tensions and best practices for using data responsibly in agriculture.

Spotting the stumbling blocks

Scanning the field
Desk research into challenges related to collecting, analysing and storing data in the sector.

Talking to the experts
We interviewed a variety of stakeholders about the main tensions when it comes to the use, creation and analysis of data.

Identifying best practices
We developed and proposed best practices for mitigating responsible data challenges in agriculture.

“I went through this Responsible Data in Agriculture brochure that’s online and it strikes me how much it applies, in concrete terms, to the data revolution that is part and parcel of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development.

The authors of this document have applied the individual lessons to the concrete case of agriculture, food and nutrition, and that is very very encouraging for those of us who have to sit in here and wonder sometimes whether there is any impact to what we are doing.”

> Thomas Gass, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs in UN DESA.

What were our findings?

From the questions that were brought up in our interviews, we identified three main challenges for responsible data in agriculture. These include a proper conduct of sensitive data, special attention for data ownership concerns, and protection of data belonging to vulnerable communities.

Given the huge power disparities present within the agricultural sector, it comes as no surprise that there are a number of tensions related to the use, creation and analysis of data. In our report, we identified and focused on tensions regarding farm profiling, benefit sharing, information asymmetry, and the known unknowns.

Best practices
Finally, we compiled a set of best practices suggested as ways to mitigate the responsible data challenges. Many of these are not unique to the agriculture sector, but rather speak to broad responsible data best practices.

What’s next?

We wrote and added a shortened version of the report in our Library, where you can scroll through our findings easily. Of course, you can also choose to read our full report. We look forward to seeing how the agriculture sector will tackle concerns of responsible data and accountability, and hope that our analysis has made a contribution to this work. However, ethical grey areas or uncertainties around the collection, analysis and storage of data exist across all sectors, so we strongly believe that analyses across multiple sectors combined with thoughtful implementation could make a huge difference to a rights-based approach in data for development.

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