Real-time data could be game-changer in fight for food security

This article was written by a social reporter. It has not been edited by the Forum organisers or partners, and represents the opinion of the individual author only.

By 2050, the world’s population is expected to reach 9.7 billion. With population and income growth driving food demand—and climate change threatening to reduce crop yields worldwide—what can governments and civil society organizations do to fight hunger? One favorable approach is a thorough use of accurate data and information and communication technologies (ICT).

On Saturday, 5 December 2015, leading experts discussed the impact of data analyses on food security at the Global Landscapes Forum in Paris. The session, hosted by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), addressed one key issue: larger landscape scale approaches based on data. The panelists discussed how these could increase the feasibility of plans that target emissions reductions while preserving economic development and increasing food security.

While using data analyses and technology may seem like a theoretical approach far removed from challenges on the ground, it provides a unique opportunity. Not only does it allow the planning of landscape use on a large scale, but also the mapping of alternative scenarios for the formulation of climate change policies, and communication with—and within—affected communities. As a consequence, it can be essential to combat climate change effectively and to assess the yield and food impact through 2050.

If current agricultural practices continue unchanged under a changing climate, farmers can expect smaller yields, triggering rising food prices. Those slated to suffer most from these changes will be populations from less developed economic regions where food security is already problematic. Data analyses and model outputs can be fundamental in predicting different climate change scenarios that facilitate a transition towards resilient and sustainable economies and societies.

Keith Wiebe, Senior Research Fellow at IFPRI, presented data that showed the significant impacts that climate change will have at global and regional scales. Using various models, he showed the potentially devastating consequences it can have on crops.

Wiebe explained how climate change will reduce gains in agricultural productivity which is predicted to affect the food security of 50 million people. One possible approach to countering this effect is the use of ICT, which can be a very powerful tool in combination with data analysis.

If farmers have access to relevant and reliable data, they can make informed decisions. Providing them with actionable insights allows them to plan ahead with reduced risks, and to react to local weather variability in real-time.

Additionally, farmers can be data providers, sharing their vast hands-on experience and reporting on local changes and new challenges in real time.

In her speech, Mercedita Sombilla, Director of ANRES, National Economic and Development Authority, Office of the President of the Philippines, stressed the impact that innovative methods such as ICT can have on food security.

Focusing on the Philippines, Sombilla said that by 2050, the number of people at risk of hunger is predicted to reach 2.5 million. She highlighted ICT and similar tools as key to increasing food security in the Philippines. Sombilla provided the example of the development of real-time weather information systems, which could be used to support farmers in their decision-making processes.

While you cannot feed mouths with data and technology, these examples show how crucial they can be in developing sustainable policies and practices that can. Investing in methods that yield clear and actionable information will become increasingly important and will play a significant part in combating climate change and developing long-term solutions for food security in the future.