September 26, 2014

Harnessing the Power of Technology and Data

Next Generation Delegation 2014 Commentary Series

By Silvano Assanga Ocheya, PhD Candidate in Plant Breeding at Texas A&M University and 2014 Next Generation Delegate

Climate change and food and nutritional security are inextricably connected. The ramifications of climate change on agricultural productivity, particularly due to anthropogenic activities, are clear: the time to act is now. This urgency was highlighted by the panelists discussing climate-smart food security at The  Chicago Council’s Global Food Security Symposium 2014 in Washington DC. The consensus was that developing countries are likely to be hardest hit by climate change, owing to their vulnerability and lack of resources to respond to its impacts. And while climate change impacts do not affect all regions of the globe simultaneously, the effects in one region are transmitted through supply chains and other avenues to non-affected areas. The 2014 Chicago Council report, Advancing Global Food Security in the Face of a Changing Climate, the 2014 US National Climate Assessment and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report concur on the effects of climate change on agriculture.

The good news, as noted by the US National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice, is that we have the means and the capacity to eliminate hunger from the face of the earth; we simply need the will to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. Developing the strategies to respond to climate change – and the willingness to implement them – falls to us. Technological solutions can play a significant role in adaptation and mitigation strategies. For example, open data access and models that capture parameters such as price trends, weather, soil, and animal husbandry can shape strategies to avert a humanitarian crisis by providing opportunity to respond before they happen. Further, based on available data and computational capability we can map out agricultural zones to identify degraded lands that can subsequently be reclaimed back into meaningful production through sustainable interventions means increasing productivity, sequestering carbon, and improving livelihoods.

These kinds of data-driven, holistic agro-based strategies, bundled into climate-smart agriculture, are already in place in many countries and have great potential for fostering economic, social, and environmental sustainability. For instance, USAID’s Feed the Future Initiative has helped smallholder farmers by developing comprehensive, country-led strategies to increase farmers’ productivity, improve access to market, and bolster natural resource management. This approach uses data to define sustainable and workable options for communities, especially those in fragile areas where poverty and malnutrition are on the extremes.

But these innovations are only impactful when they reach their intended consumer. Symposium panelists noted that it often takes too long for technology to infiltrate across the globe. This process could be much more efficient if built on available technology, such as ICT, to accelerate adoption. For example, mobile apps would help farmers make informed choices based on data analyzed and relayed through mobile phones. Cell-phone technology could also help extension services grow beyond beside face-to-face visits, and farmers could pay for inputs using mobile banking services. These possibilities demonstrate the capability of technology and how it can be tapped to improve rural livelihoods, but we must do better to ensure better agricultural innovations reach smallholder farmers.

It is encouraging that many governments – both in developed and developing countries – have already availed data on various parameters for agricultural productivity. We have a collective responsibility to address the impacts of climate change on agricultural production and food security. Through innovative partnerships, interventions, and technology, we can combat the threats from a changing climate.


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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| By Janet Fierro

Guest Commentary - Rural Niger Women find Opportunity and Hope through Innovative Business Model

When researchers set out to find natural ways to manage a crop-destroying pest in sub-Saharan Africa cowpea fields they knew the results could have significant positive impact on smallholder farmers. What they may not have expected was the significance of the cottage industry it inspired and the entrepreneurial spirit of the rural women of Niger who led it.