How can we use data for improving food production?

Food security is one of the hottest topics nowadays; with a constantly growing population that is expected to reach (and even exceed) 9 billion by 2020, and the traditional food production systems reaching their limits, new, innovative ways need to be followed in order to ensure that there will be enough food for everyone in the upcoming years. What is strange is that at the same time, huge amounts of food are going to waste on a daily basis; in EU alone, more than 100 million tones of food are going to waste annually.

Intensive and industrial agriculture exhibit higher yields of cultivated crops but the price is high: The (increasingly high) use of pesticides, insecticides, herbicides and fertilizers, among other chemicals, has its toll on the ecosystems, flora and fauna at a small and larger scale. Traditional crop varieties are replaced by hybrids resistant to plant pests and diseases; these hybrids are sterile and may be harmful to useful insects, disrupting the ecosystems. Even domain giants like Sygenta have realized the impact of the excessive inputs in agriculture and introduce initiatives like the Good Growth Plan, which makes use of data for allowing the reduction of inputs thus minimizing their environmental impact. On the other hand, the much safer and envrinment-friendly organic agriculture cannot provide alone the response to the increased demand for food, as yields are usually lower and the effort needed is higher, leading to increased (labor) costs.

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The answer is yes and it seems that data can help in different ways. The use of data can help in making informed decisions and educate stakeholders; for example, the use of appropriate data can help in the identification of the most appropriate crop varieties for a given location, affect the amount of inputs required for pest & weed control, the volume of water for irrigation required etc. Such data can be collected through various means, such as sensors, maps (including soil and climate), related publications, reports, images (e.g. aerial ones) even social media (Twitter has been used for sharing data at a global scale). The example of the Good Growth Plan is a good one as it makes use of various types of data collected over the years in order to help minimize the harmful inputs used for increasing yields. The recently published Discussion Paper of the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition, titled “How can we improve agriculture, food and nutrition with open data?” also provides a wealth of examples where open data has contributed to a better (and cleaner) agriculture and food production.;

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