Data is a rarity in Nigeria, as it is across much of Africa and it even gets worse in agriculture. However, to meet food needs on the continent following the COVID-19 pandemic, a new paper by the World Economic Forum has indicated that data-driven food systems will be required to combat food insecurity.
Data-driven food systems – empowered by digital connectivity – is not a new concept; however, the COVID-19 crisis has underscored the necessity of this approach and the urgent need to bring significant resources to bear as a central enabler for the food systems of tomorrow. The current crisis provides an opportunity to strategically rethink and retool the food systems to enable widespread digitalization and data-driven transformation along the agricultural value chain and beyond, resulting in a more integrated approach to uniquely identify long-term solutions that benefit the rural and economic development of entire countries, noted WEF.
The paper, prepared by the World Economic Forum’s COVID Action for Food Systems – Africa: Data and Information Platforms Working Group, is intended as a starting point to advance actionable understanding on an emerging set of approaches for data-driven food systems across stakeholders.
By utilizing emerging data-driven solutions for food and agriculture and viewing them as part of a wider economic enabling framework, WEF says partnerships can be leveraged and scaled. Data from across satellite and geospatial operators, ICT and telecommunications providers, e-commerce and logistics companies, and finance providers could all be brought to bear, alongside data from other actors who intersect the food space, such as the mining sector’s land utilization patterns. These corresponding data sets, brought together in a joint ecosystem that informs the wider economic and societal development, can thereby create a much greater transformational effect.
It also noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the unique opportunity to be the necessary watershed moment for recognition and alignment around a transformation that is informed by data, to support agriculture and resiliency of food systems in times of crisis. Used with wisdom, a granular data-driven understanding of communities and individuals, of complex natural ecosystems, of value chains can open new possibilities for well-being and deliver unimaginable benefits.
While the timeline for African food systems to “bounce back” once a vaccine is widely available is unknown, stakeholders should prepare to bounce back smartly by leveraging data. In this regard, it is key for stakeholders to recognize that the use of data has now evolved from old, linear models with a focus on increased efficiency and better post-hoc decision-making. New models are highlighting ways to use data to generate topline value for all actors in the value chain, including farmers. Worldwide, today’s use cases frequently draw on data from multiple sources, generate value for multiple entities and embed both end user and partner interests.