CABI to help overcome constraints to FAIR and responsible data use

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21 October 2021, UK: CABI has been awarded a $4.5 million contract from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to work with them to help address known constraints to data utility in agriculture development investments. It will do this by increasing the capacity and capability of the foundation, its grantees and the community to manage the move towards FAIR data standards and responsible data sharing and use.

The contract with CABI will help the foundation’s Agricultural Development Program strategically address data sharing considerations at the beginning of projects rather than as an afterthought. It will help them understand how knowledge assets (e.g., data, science, analytics, models and digital content) produced by the foundation’s investments can be made useful to the broader ag-data economy.

The funding, to be spent over the course of the three-year project, will focus on ensuring available data on agricultural development is based upon FAIR principles – in that it must be Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable – and can be monitored to assess the success of newly created data ecosystems.

It follows a $1.49 million grant awarded to CABI in 2019 to help the foundation increase food security in India and Ethiopia through better access to data on soil health, agronomy and fertilizers.

The earlier grant was driven by a joint donor statement made by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) on the role that donor organizations should play in good data management in agricultural programmes.

The latest funding will build upon CABI’s existing work with the foundation in India and Ethiopia that saw it encouraging and enabling governments, universities and research organizations in the two countries to see the benefits and apply best practices regarding the sharing of data. Ultimately, this will boost agriculture, help farmers grow healthier and profitable crops and lose less to pests and diseases.

Specifically, the new funding will enable CABI to help the foundation develop the cultural, institutional and political systems that enable good practice in data sharing to be successful.

The project will also consider how appropriate and ethical incentive and governance systems can be enhanced to the benefit of local stakeholders and others within the national systems – thereby improving the likelihood of data being shared.

Furthermore, CABI will help the foundation ensure that various actors – such as programme officers and grantees – are supported as they implement FAIR and responsible data. A particular focus will be on recognising and engaging in ‘best practice’ and ensuring that data governance is appropriately valued.

Ultimately, the contract recognizes that data is critical to successfully improving the lives of small-scale agricultural producers. The more data we have about interventions (successful or unsuccessful) and about farmers themselves and their local contexts, the more targeted we can be with intervention design and implementation. More available, accessible and usable data across the broader agricultural sector will enable more effective programmatic design, more targeted and effective interventions and policies, and for the private sector can enable more effective products and services for small-scale producers.

Martin Parr, CABI’s Director of Data Policy and Practice said, “We are grateful to the foundation for this latest contract which builds upon our existing work in advocating and implementing FAIR and more open access principles to agricultural data in India and Ethiopia and, ultimately, helping to ensure food security in these countries and further afield.

“This latest investment provides the opportunity to address data sharing and mitigate risks during the development of interventions rather than as an afterthought.

“To do this we will work to address particular gaps around the lack of guidance available to programme officers, programme coordinators, business partners and grantees regarding the treatment of data in agricultural development grants and contracts.

“We will also address the lack of donor attention to the cultural, governance and human dimensions of data sharing ecosystem development, amidst intensifying investments over recent years into technical solutions.”

Ruthie Musker, CABI’s lead coordinator on the programme describes how the project also focuses on supporting more profound changes, “These might include improved data policies and practice at national and institutional levels driving greater access to data and improving decision making for agriculture.”

“Real change will be driven by an improved data culture where trust around data is earned and built, and from sustainable data access built into platforms from the outset.”

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