12 April 2023, Malawi: CABI has highlighted the importance of adopting the principles of FAIR data in a workshop held to help establish a digital plant health service in Malawi that will ultimately ensure greater food security and benefit over 100,000 smallholder farmers.
Henry Mibei, Manager, Digital Development, and Dr Tom Chaloner, Data Policy Analyst, Digital Development, presented at the two-day workshop in Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital city, to raise awareness of Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable (FAIR) data.
They particularly sought to apply the FAIR data concept to the Malawi Digital Plant Health Service (MaDiPHS) project – funded by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) – in respect of collecting information on data/knowledge products that could be of use to the project.
Agriculture is the biggest industry in Malawi with over 80% of the 19.65 million people engaged in subsistence farming where maize, cassava and sweet potatoes are the main crops.
Over one-third of Malawi’s GDP and 90% of its export revenue comes from agriculture and the largest cash crop is tobacco followed by tea and raw sugar.
However, all crops are affected by erratic rainfall, small farm size, limited use of modern inputs and poor access to markets. They are also particularly impacted by problems with pests and diseases.
These include the fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) on maize and the tomato leafminer (Phthorimaea absoluta).
MaDiPHS aims to build and expand on the successes achieved by existing digital plant health systems such as PlantVillage Nuru (a pest and disease monitoring tool), the Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research’s VIPS pest prediction platform, a Farmer Interface Application (developed by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture) and the CABI-led Plantwise programme and Pest Risk Information Service (PRISE).
The goal of the project is to establish a decision support service that can be of assistance in the management of the most economically important agricultural pests and diseases in Malawi for maize, tomato, cassava, groundnuts and banana.
At the workshop, which was attended by over 25 participants from organisations including the Malawi Government’s Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), National Statistics Office of Malawi, Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services (DCCMS), FAO Malawi, ICRISAT, IITA, CIMMYT and Total Land Care, Mr Mibei and Dr Chaloner introduced the concept of metadata and how metadata helps people find and reuse data.
Accordingly, they outlined the Metadata Template that will be used by the MaDiPHS project to identify and describe data that could be of value to the project.
Mr Mibei and Dr Chaloner supported participants to complete the template and captured metadata for various data/knowledge products held by the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) and other institutions.
The CABI representatives also helped participants understand the importance of identifying challenges and restrictions to accessing and reusing data in MaDiPHS as well as suggestions to overcome these issues.
Mr Mibei said, “Establishing a pest and disease decision support system in Malawi will help farmers to take the best decisions within the concept of Integrated Pest Management to mitigate crop losses due to pests and diseases.
“However, to achieve this goal, the project first needs to understand what data and information resources exists that could be of value to the project. And, to link this back to FAIR principles, the project needs to primarily find or locate relevant data.
“The workshop served as valuable way of facilitating interaction between various partners and other stakeholders who all have an interest in seeing the creation of a digital plant health system for Malawi come to fruition.”
It is anticipated that the data assets and outputs of existing digital systems will contribute to a common International Platform which will feed into a national digital client (a locally-adapted digital system with a user interface that meets the local needs).
CABI is leading on data organization and management which focuses on enhancing access to data and information resources as part of the MaDiPHS ecosystem.
It is also responsible for a range of tasks including the mapping of data ecosystems, identifying key data sets and brokering access to the data held by data holders and ensuring that data is shared with clear and appropriate licences.
The digital plant health service will be owned and managed by the Malawian Government and, while the country is serving as a pilot for the project, it could be an example model for other countries and regions to adapt and upscale in the future.
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