‘The most important tool to generate innovation’: How open data could solve world hunger

By Katy Askew contact

- Last updated on GMT

Opening data would boost global R&I, GODAN argues ©iStock/Droits d'auteur/LeoWolfert
Opening data would boost global R&I, GODAN argues ©iStock/Droits d'auteur/LeoWolfert
A call has gone out for the need to open data sources in order to stimulate research and innovation and help ‘solve world hunger’.

A new report has called on universities to introduce policies permitting access to research in areas such as nutrition and agriculture. This would enhance “similar research”​ across the globe and help tackle challenges and like hunger and malnutrition, Presidents United to Solve Hunger (PUSH) suggested.

The PUSH report, led by Auburn University, stressed that of the 99 PUSH member universities, only 15 have open access policies and none have specific open data policies.

PUSH, a Global Open Data for Agriculture partner, found that where open data is available this is “largely driven​” by the research funders' requirement to comply with the funding mandate. For instance, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation requires all its funding recipients to provide open data.

“Open data has proven to be one of the most important tools to share scientific knowledge, stimulate collaboration and generate innovation worldwide. Innovation is key if we are to make progress towards achieving global nutritional security, and universities could help pave the way as they generate knowledge,”​ GODAN executive director Andre Laperriere said.

“If you share what you’ve learned with others, they can use it to find solutions that they may not find otherwise,”​ added Dr Anne Adrian, project manager for the Auburn’s Hunger Solutions Institute, who led the investigation.

‘The challenge is global nutrition security’

Laperriere told FoodNavigator that open data can boost R&I in the food sector and help “bridge the gap”​ between food production and consumption.

“GODAN is working very closely with the University of Cambridge and the NNEdPro global nutrition network (a GODAN partner) precisely to stimulate innovation towards improving the nutritional status of the world’ s current and future population. Many focus on global food security, while the true challenge is global nutrition security.”

In order to deliver a secure nutrition future, Laperroere believes research and innovation across a variety of disciplines will be crucial.

“GODAN’s focus is not a onetime event; it is about securing the world’s food needs for now, and for the foreseeable future. This is why beyond the concept of agriculture lie a number of parameters that cannot be ignored in order to ensure sustainability: water supply, global warming, land degradation, to mention a few. Areas in which research and innovation are key.”

Financial concerns holding open data back

PUSH said the call for open data has its challenges: not least concerns that releasing intellectual property could financially benefit another academic institution.

Dr Adrian said universities, researchers and funders have to start to work together more in order to create a pathway to open access and open data for the benefit of all. “To move forward with this, Auburn University needs to lead by example,"​ Adrian said.

"We support the Open Data Initiative and believe universities can do better in promoting open access and open data to help enhance research and innovation,​" Professor Peter Atkinson of Lancaster University said. Lancaster is one of two UK PUSH Universities.

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