Big data: big hope or big risk?

ID-100236071Hailed as the latest technological advance that could revolutionise development and agriculture (along with other sectors), “big data” has been the focus of several recent articles, most notably a series of articles published by SciDev.Net. In June 2013 a UN High level panel called for a “data revolution” emphasising the need for better data to track progress towards development goals. But what is big data and how can it aid poverty and hunger eradication?

Big data is not just large amounts of information but rather it’s about integrating infrastructure to collect data at every step of the development process and designing new data collection methods that can track development goals effectively. In particular, big data is being hailed as the big fix for the lack of reliable official statistics in developing countries. But there is no clear (agreed upon) definition of big data, one article stating “it is data generated through our increasing use of digital devices and web-supported tools and platforms in our daily lives”. Due to our increasingly digital society, the amount of data (from social media platforms, mobile phones, online financial services etc.) has grown enormously. A much quoted statistic states that up to 90% of the world’s data was created over just two years (2010–2012). The aim for big data is to use this sizeable knowledge source to add value to society. Driving interest in evidence-based policy making, big data is also being termed a movement, one that aims to turn data into decision making.

In May 2012 Global Pulse published a White Paper entitled Big Data for Development: Opportunities & Challenges, which highlighted the opportunities big data provides. In particular they explore the role of big data in describing what is happening, predicting what may happen and explore the reasons behind why things happen.

For agriculture, big data means information can be collected along the whole supply chain including from supermarkets, weather sensing equipment, digital images, and research papers. These data sets can then be transformed through analytics into actionable information. But this conversion is rife with complexities in terms of managing, processing, sharing and using huge amounts of data. [Read more...]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Who Wants to Farm? Youth Aspirations, Opportunities and Rising Food Prices, IDS

The Shocking Cost Of Food Waste, Forbes

Research-for-development project chalks up significant progress to save maize from Striga weed, IITA

A Five-Step Plan to Feed the World, National Geographic

Food Waste Reduction Alliance Publishes Toolkit for Reducing Food Waste, Food Waste Reduction Alliance

Rejected ideas ‘could have aided developing countries’, SciDev.Net

UN to measure women’s rights progress over past 20 years, The Guardian

Africa’s youth key to strengthening agricultural economy, Teatro Naturale International

Climate change mitigation must benefit the poor, aid experts say, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Biofortified Beans to Fight ‘Hidden Hunger’ in Rwanda, Inter Press Service

The Grapes of Wrath is 75 years old and more relevant than ever, The Guardian

Ten lessons from biotechnology experiences in developing countries, FAO

Climate Efforts Falling Short, U.N. Panel Says, The New York Times

Declining crop yields and increasing agricultural emissions

ID-100148476Alongside the recent release of the UN IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, a new study, published in Nature, provides evidence that global increases in temperature of only 2°C will reduce crop yields in temperate and tropical regions from the 2030s onward.

The meta-analysis, collated and analysed by researchers at the University of Leeds, combined 1,700 published data sets for wheat, rice and maize, the largest dataset on crop responses to climate change yet. The research, taking into account currently practiced adaptation activities such as changing planting dates and using improved varieties, as well as uncertainty and the timing of impacts, found that the variability between crop yields in different places and at different times is also likely to increase with climate change, which could have a profound impact on the security of food supply.

Beyond 2050 declines in crop yields will be greater in magnitude, reductions of 25% are expected to be widespread with median crop yields to drop by 2% each decade for the rest of the century. Although crop productivity has previously been predicted to improve in Northern Europe, crop yields even under moderate future warming may decline in many places. Coupled with increasing demand for food (expected to increase 14% per decade until 2050), future food security without significant intervention looks bleak.

The clear message from the paper and the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report is the urgent need for farmers to adapt to a changing climate and for all countries to seriously engage in mitigating climate change. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation recently released figures showing that greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural, forestry and fisheries sector have doubled over the last 50 years and could grow by over 30% by 2050. The majority of this increase is being seen in developing countries, with the expansion of agricultural production.

Between 2001 and 2010 emissions from crop and livestock agriculture increased 14% while emissions from land use change and deforestation declined 10%, yet more evidence that agriculture needs to be part of climate discussions. Within agriculture, enteric fermentation (methane from livestock) accounts for the largest proportion of emissions (39%) and increased 11% between 2001 and 2010. The FAO, in 2012, launched the FAOSTAT emissions database, which details the GHG emissions of agriculture, forestry and other land use activities.

With crop yields expected to decline (and already declining in many countries) and agricultural emissions appearing to be on an upwards trajectory, the former perhaps incentivising the latter, we need smarter agriculture, that is resilient to future climate change while also reducing GHG emissions, the very goal of sustainable intensification.

ID-100144969A recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Climate change mitigation through livestock system transitions, discusses how climate mitigation policies can reduce emissions from the livestock sector. Authors identify much potential to mitigate climate change in livestock production systems, namely the transition from extensive to more productive systems, reducing the livestock sector’s impact on land use change. The paper also recommends emissions reductions should be targeted to the supply (rather than demand) side. Aside from this rather controversial recommendation, this paper, as with many others, identifies significant opportunities to mitigate climate change and increase food supply within the agricultural sector. Serious action on implementing the variety of adaptation and mitigation strategies at the global and local level appears to be the limiting factor in progress.

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

A meta-analysis of crop yield under climate change and adaptation, Nature

A Green Revolution, This Time for Africa, The New York Times

Philippine experts divided over climate change action, The Guardian

New Innovations to Reduce Harvest Loss in Africa, The Rockefeller Foundation

Is more hunger and malnutrition inevitable? Not necessarily, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Unity is strength in the marketing of smallholder farm produce, EurekAlert

Don’t sacrifice EU environmental standards to get trade deal with US, warns Greenpeace policy director, Vieuws

Farming for Improved Ecosystem Services Seen as Economically Feasible, American Institute of Biological Sciences

US pork prices rise 10% after virus kills millions of piglets, The Guardian

Northern Europe hit by most bee deaths – EU study, BBC

Looking to Wheat’s Wild Ancestors to Combat an Evolving Threat, USDA

Who’s leading on climate action pledges? A calculator reveals all, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Field study shows why food quality will suffer with rising CO2, UC Davis

 

The Global Youth Wellbeing Index

indexCoverHalf of the world’s population is under 25. 1.8 billion people are between the ages of 10 and 24, the largest youth population the world has ever seen, 85% of which live in developing and emerging economies. In Uganda for example, 50% of the population is under the age of 15. While on the one hand such a large youth population is viewed as a challenge, of employment, of education and of population growth, this group also has significant potential to innovate and change the world for the better.

The first ever Youth Wellbeing Index, developed by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the International Youth Foundation (IYF), compares how youths are faring across six key areas: citizen participation, economic opportunity, education, health, ICT and safety and security. For each area, indicators around the enabling environment in which youth live and participate, youth outcomes, and youths’ outlook and satisfaction with their own wellbeing are combined. The overall score is a combination of the six individual scores. Thirty countries representing around 70% of this youth group (generally aged 12-25 years) were ranked from high wellbeing to low.

The report finds the majority of the world’s youth living in countries at or near the bottom of the wellbeing ranking. In some countries such as Indonesia, youth are optimistic about their future in spite of the developmental challenges the country faces while in some developed countries such as Russia, youth can have more negative outlooks. Overall youth in rich countries tend to have higher levels of wellbeing than those in poorer nations. But money is not the key to everything. Spain has relatively high levels of wellbeing, ranking eighth, but faces high and increasing levels of youth unemployment. In the US, youth health is a significant problem. This shows that countries ranking high overall may score low in specific areas and vice versa. Across all countries youth are strongest in health and weakest in economic opportunity.

Jose Graziano Da Silva, Director General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, at the FAO’s Regional Conference for Africa, discussed the role of youth in African farming, highlighting their potential to innovate in the sector. Making agriculture more appealing and economically beneficial to younger generations is a significant challenge. Africa is the world’s youngest region, where more than half of the population are under 25 years of age. Agriculture in many African countries is a significant and fast growing economic sector but this growth has not resulted in widespread employment and attractive incomes for young people. Salaries are generally low, risks are high and there is often little help from governments should farming businesses struggle. The FAO is calling for “greater public and private investment in agribusiness, agro-industry and market-related services to attract and keep young workers, fuel job creation, and spur new development in the agricultural sector”.

The Global Youth Wellbeing Index emphasises that now is the time to invest in programmes and policies that engage youth and equip them to be productive. The key message is that if this generation of youth thrives so do we all.

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Sharp rise in FAO Food Price Index, FAO

Spreading the word about the no-till agricultural revolution, IIED

On the road to Paris 2015: Towards a new global climate deal, Friends of Europe

Fake Meats, Finally, Taste Like Chicken, The New York Times

‘How DFID Learns’. Or doesn’t. UK aid watchdog gives it a ‘poor’ (but the rest of us would probably do worse), Duncan Green, Oxfam

Realising the Promise of Agriculture for Africa’s Transformation, PAEPARD

Global food security: could wheat feed the world?, The Guardian

Commentary Series – This Land is Our Land, Global Food for Thought

3 Graphics To Explain The Present And Future Of Climate Change, Forbes

Climate signals, growing louder, The New York Times [Read more...]

ODI research: Climate change mitigation is development

cover-zero-poverty-stripes-blueIn 2015 the international community will come together to discuss action that needs to be taken to address climate change and global development. The Overseas Development Institute has undertaken research on the impacts climate change will likely have on development efforts and the news is not good.

 
The progress the world has made in reducing poverty and hunger, improving access to water and health is at risk of being reversed. Between 1990 and 2010 the number of people in poverty declined by 700 million but many face the risk of falling back into poverty under conditions of climate change. As sea levels rise, temperatures increase and more frequent extreme events occur crops yields will decline and whole areas important for agriculture, many heavily populated, such as deltas in Bangladesh, will be lost. In Africa, crop yields are projected to be reduced by some 90% by 2080 and wheat production will disappear altogether. These changes to agricultural productivity are estimated to increase food prices, increase hunger (by an estimated 250 million people) and exacerbate poverty. Meeting the needs of a growing global population is an urgent challenge made significantly harder by these projected productivity declines. A 55% increase in global crop production would be required to meet increasing global population demand by 2030. By 2050 to 2100, an additional 165,000 to 250,000 children could die each year compared to a world without climate change.

 
Access to drinking water, which has been improved for some 2.1 billion people in the world in the last 20 years, will become more of a challenge. In Africa 350 million to 600 million people will be exposed to water stress by 2050. An extra 2.5 billion people will be at risk of dengue fever and an extra 40 to 60 million people in Africa alone will be at risk of malaria under climate change. Migration will also increase and by 2100, it’s estimated that climate change will cause annual economic of losses of between 5 and 20% of global GDP.

 

Much hope for the future rests on agreements met by the international community at the next Conference of the Parties in Peru of the United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last Friday, and in the Post-2015 development agenda. Mitigation is urgently needed if temperatures are kept below a 2C threshold, we are currently on a trajectory that will see far higher temperature increases, as too is adaptation, since we are committed to some degree of impacts of climate change.

 

A recent report explored options for how climate change could be included in the post-2015 agenda, in particular through mainstreaming climate change amongst all development goals or having a standalone climate change goal. How climate change will be addressed is important. That it will be addressed is vital, to the health, wealth, welfare and survival of people around the world.

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