The business of agriculture and food is driven by data, making it the treasure trove of today’s agri-food system. Whether it’s today’s soil moisture, tomorrow’s weather forecast, or the price of rice in Riyadh, every bit of data can improve the efficiency with which the world’s 570 million farmers put food into the mouths of its soon-to-be eight billion consumers. Digital technologies are facilitating the flow of data through the food system, shrinking information asymmetries and fashioning new markets along the way. How can we ensure these new markets are appropriately contested, and the treasure does not end up in the hands of a couple of gunslingers? Is there a public sector’s role in generating and disseminating data that on the one hand encourages innovation and competition and on the other reduces opportunities for market capture? One place to look may be at the crossroads of internet and public goods.
We all remember from econ class that public goods can’t be efficiently allocated by markets because they are non-rival and non-excludable. There are precious few examples of true public goods – national defense, clean air, and lighthouses come to mind. That is, at least until Coase’s in “The Lighthouse in Economics” argued that lighthouses are excludable because it was possible to temporarily turn-off the lighthouse when a ship sailed by that didn’t pay their port fees.
Coming to completion in May 2018, RRCDP has improved road access to markets to at least 11 project Chiwogs (hamlets) in Samtse and Trongsa Dzongkhags – building 22.9 kilometers of farm roads and benefitting about 299 households. With the construction of new farm roads, the most commonly marketed agricultural and livestock products amongst farmers in project areas have been cardamom, vegetables, butter, cheese, and citrus, and to a lesser extent, rice, potatoes, and eggs. Additionally, beneficiaries have also reported a significant reduction in the time of travel between their households and markets – up to 8 hours in some cases! The majority of the Bhutanese population live in remote rural areas – hours, sometimes days of walking from the nearest road. They walk their children through dense forests and rivers to reach schools and health clinics; they carry their agricultural and livestock products to nearby markets on their backs – an average load of 30kg. A horse carrying a 50kg load costs approximately Nu.5 per kilogram.
The project has also supported beneficiaries in 88 Chiwogs with access to community and marketing infrastructure, such as power tiller tracks, power tiller machinery, and food bridges – with a total of 3,597 households benefitted. In Norgaygang Gewog, for example, with support from the project, the construction of 4 kilometers of power tiller track in 2016, has brought multiple benefits to the community, such as easier access to schools and healthcare in case of emergency.
Africa’s urban areas are booming, experiencing a high urban growth rate over the last two decades at 3.5% per year. This growth rate is expected to hold into 2050. With this growth, street food is going to become one of the most important components of African diets. The formal sector will just not be able to keep up!
Enter my company, Musana Carts, which tackles the #FoodRevolution challenge from the end of the food value chain. Musana Carts, which currently operates in Uganda, streamlines and improves the production and consumption of street food.
Why did we decide to focus on street food?
Despite the illegal status of unlicensed street food vendors, who are regularly evicted from markets, street vending is an age old industry. Low income families spend up to 40% of their income in street food (Nri).
People eat street food because it is affordable, abundant, delicious and has a local and emotional flavor. Street food plays a key role in the development of cities. It is the one place where the posh and the poor from all walks of life meet and forget their social differences for the few seconds it takes to savor a snack.
Street foods tell a story. They capture the flavor of a nation and the pride of a tribe: in Uganda, the rolex, a rolled chapatti with an omelet, has been named one of the fastest growing African street foods. The minister for tourism made it the new Ugandan tourism product.
Extreme poverty in the world has decreased considerably over the past three decades. In 1981, more than half of citizens in the developing world lived on less than $1.25 a day. This rate has dropped dramatically to 21% in 2010. Moreover, despite a 59% increase in the developing world’s population, there were significantly fewer people living on less than $1.25 a day in 2010 (1.2 billion) than there were three decades ago (1.9 billion). However, 1.2 billion people still live in extreme poverty—an extremely high figure, so the task ahead of us remains herculean.
Among the poor, 78% live in rural areas, and 500 million of these are small farmers. Of these, 170 million are women farmers. Globally, 2.5 billion are dependent on small farms as a source of livelihood and employment. Agriculture contributes one third of GDP in Africa and more than 65% of the workforce depends on this sector. There has been significant progress in increasing agricultural production and expansion of livelihood and economic opportunities in rural areas. There are about 40 million enterprises, from very small to medium-sized, involved in agribusiness.
Our Green Competitiveness Launchpad team is looking at agriculture supply chains in Bangladesh and how they’re affected by climate change – as farmers change the crops they plant owing to drought or flooding. As a result, we’ve been exploring the supply chains of a number of crops from guavas to sunflower and mung beans.
There’s a fascinating infographic from CIAT (International Center for Tropical Agriculture) that illustrates the geographical diversity of the common foods we eat every day. It shows that the globalization of food began centuries ago. Many cultures incorporate foods that originated thousands of miles away. For example, sunflower originated in North America and is now widely produced in Eastern Europe, and guava originated in Central America and is now mainly produced in South Asia.
So the global challenge is clear: We need to sustainably feed 9 billion people in 2050, while building the resilience of farmers and food companies AND concurrently making agriculture part of the climate solution, not an increasingly large part of the problem.
Daunting? Well, yes of course, but that is why it is a “global challenge” and not just something that incremental change will solve.
There is nothing new in this story and many of the things we need to do are known, but just not done at scale. What is new is the fact that the interests, aspirations and objectives of a wide group of stakeholders are coming together. We have long searched for truly sustainable farming – one that will sustain farmers and enable them to prosper, while ensuring that the landscapes in which we live and work are not the subject of short term gain resulting in long term degradation.
Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) can help make the food system more sustainable in a changing climate. But does it come at a cost to women, in terms of a heavier workload?
Climate-smart agriculture’s three pillars: improved agricultural productivity, increased adaptation to climate change and reduction of greenhouse gases are goals well worthy of targeting. On the one hand, CSA practices such as water harvesting or planting trees that provide more accessible fuel, fodder and food can save women’s time. On the other hand, some practices such as increased weeding or mulch spreading can require women to spend more time in the field.
In 2007-08, an evaluation by Catalyst Management Services of a tribal livelihoods initiative for the State Planning Commission of Madhya Pradesh showed that agriculture as a livelihoods option was unproductive and for small tribal farmers; leaving them without a profitable livelihood option. But it wasn’t because of prices, or barriers to entry. Instead, it was because crucial services and government schemes were not reaching those who needed them most.
According to the data, only 10-12% of small producers were able to access vital extension schemes and a mere 7-8% of other government schemes. The evaluation found that large farms were crowding out the smaller farmers from accessing key subsidies and benefits. So the State Planning Commission posed a challenge: find a way to reach these marginalized tribal farmers in Madhya Pradesh.
“It is not data [that] makes you powerful; it is how you use it. That is exactly what our government has set out to do…data empowers not only the holder of it, but also the people who receive it and are empowered by using it.” – Minister KT Rama Rao
Over the past several years, I have attended many Open Data-related events in Washington, DC and elsewhere. But as far as I remember, no one has addressed the opportunities and potentials of Open Data for greater government accountability, citizen engagement, empowerment of the poor, and inclusive rural growth as speakers and presenters did in early September in Hyderabad, India.
Being transparent — through Open Data in this context — is an achievement itself. Transparency has been at the center of attention of the Open Data movement for some time. However, as many of us know, being open is a means to an end — the more important questions are what to open, as well as for what purpose, for whom and how.