June 14, 2017

Guest Commentary - Unifying the Next Generation through Open Data

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is pleased to present the 2017 Next Generation Delegates blog series. This year’s Delegation was comprised of 20 outstanding students from universities across the United States and around the world studying agriculture, food, and related disciplines. We were thrilled to feature these emerging leaders at the Global Food Security Symposium 2017, and look forward to sharing the exciting work of this extraordinary group.

By Tom Poole, BS candidate, Crop Sciences, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and 2017 Next Generation Delegate

Attending the Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ 2017 Global Food Security Symposium was extraordinarily motivating. It provided a sense of short-term realism, but long-term optimism. To interact with leaders from an array of entities was simply unbelievable. But the greatest motivation came from interacting with my fellow Next Generation Delegates. After all, we were all only college students, whether be from the Southside of Chicago or Southern Brazil. Our interdisciplinary passions were unified under a grand challenge: sustainably feeding 9 billion people by 2050.

As emphasized during this conference, providing 21st century stability requires supporting global youth. There are currently 1.8 billion people on the planet between the ages of 10 and 24; 71 million of those are unemployed.  Rural youth are migrating from urban areas in search of improved economic opportunity. However, these mass migrations result in exponential growth in urban slums, further exacerbating global poverty. Culturally, the agriculture industry, both in developed and developing nations, is perceived with negativity. As once mentioned, “Youth are not against farming, they are against being poor.” During the Symposium, I realized how accessible information can be used not just to enhance production, but also incentivize youth engagement in this vibrant sector.

One approach to incentivize youth may come through unlocking big data: open data holds enormous potential for the food and agriculture industry, and inspiration for the next generation. Simply stated, open data is free and accessible information. The more information we share, the more efficient and productive we can be. It also plays into the role of creative “problem solving.” The generality of this concept brings a whole spectrum of implications, especially in the role of global food security.

Using open data, we can promote research findings, form partnerships, and uncover new opportunities for growth in agriculture. This data includes, but is not limited to, regional crop yields, climate shocks, water availability, and commodity pricing. Syngenta’s “Good Growth Plan” is one such example of an open data-based business strategy. Using quantified information collected and provided by the US Department of Agriculture, the agribusiness established benchmarks for its sustainability goals. Yet, there is further work needed to develop the infrastructure of open data. Accessibility between countries, businesses, and organizations is a necessity for spreading information. Fortunately, initiatives are being taken. GODAN, or Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition, is an initiative set to support efforts in providing open data resources for the food and agriculture sector. This includes a multitude of partnerships from public, private, and non-governmental entities to develop related research, policy, and technology.

As an undergraduate in agriculture, I am pondering my role in interacting with open data. Currently, I am president of Unify, a student-led academic program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. It’s set to facilitate collaboration in the areas of food security, sustainable systems, and human livelihood. To operate, the program is comprised of executive and delegate leadership. The delegation consists of a partnership comprised of a diverse team of student and faculty led organizations placing everyone at the table, both figuratively and literally. Our current challenge involves diverting potential food waste from local food retailers (dining halls, restaurants, grocery stores, etc.) to preparing it for those in need. As a large university situated in twin cities (Urbana and Champaign) it’s necessary that we develop a unified network to tackle this issue. By pooling data and resources from researchers, administration, and the local community, we can develop an interdisciplinary network. This network possesses the ability to analyze current trends and records of food waste, while connecting potential donors to established opportunity.

To ensure stability in the 21st century, we must ensure opportunity for the global youth. Open data “opens” a plethora of opportunity for the food and agriculture sector. It makes agriculture “sexy,” yet effective. However, it doesn’t exist within a simplified jurisdiction. It’s a complicated yet exciting phenomenon to live in the era of open data. Developing the network of today’s hunger fighters will strengthen the bridge that leads our work into our designated reality.

Thank you to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs for providing a tremendous experience. Your support in engaging the Next Generation is beyond appreciated.

Read previous blogs by the 2017 Next Generation Delegates:


The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


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Africa Can End Poverty, World Bank

Agrilinks Blog

Bread Blog, Bread for the World

Can We Feed the World Blog, Agriculture for Impact

Concern Blogs, Concern Worldwide

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WFP USA Blog, World Food Program USA


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