Planting the Canadian Flag on the 2016 GODAN Summit

Last month, the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) Summit 2016 took place in New York City.  Armed with the theme “Join the Open Data Revolution to end global hunger”, world leaders, academics, researchers, farmers, innovators, open data practitioners, students and industry luminaries gathered to share knowledge and collaborate on tangible solutions leveraging open data to combat global hunger.  Canada had a respectable academic presence, including Jeremy de Beer from the University of Ottawa, Alastair Summerlee from the University of Guelph and Chris Baker from the University of New Brunswick.  Jeremy de Beer is also the author of a GODAN research paper on “Ownership of Open Data: Governance Options for Agriculture and Nutrition” released at the Summit.

Less conspicuous but no less important, was the contribution of researcher/recent graduate Charu Jaiswal of Toronto.  Charu won first place in the GODAN “The Open Data Maker’s Challenge” with her project proposal, AfriWeather.  As part of her prize package, Charu was provided travel, accommodation and attendance to the GODAN Summit.  I recently had the honour of speaking to Charu about her competition and Summit experiences.

Charu Jaiswal is a recent graduate of the University of Toronto with a Master’s Degree in Industrial Engineering and Machine Learning and is currently working as a researcher for the MIT Sloan School of Business Management.  Charu’s inspiration for the AfriWeather project came from a weather-predictions-for-renewable-energy project she worked on while attending the Singularity University’s Graduate Solutions Program.  She realized that the high-resolution weather predictions for renewable energy producers might be the answer for African farmers desperate for accurate climate information and predictions.  This was the genesis of Charu’s entry into GODAN’s The Open Data Makers Challenge.

The AfriWeather project proposes deploying a network of low-cost weather sensors across African farms that will collect near-realtime data and combine it with open data in the form of satellite images, historical weather data, national weather models, etc.  The combined data would then be fed through machine learning algorithms to produce high-resolution weather predictions which would then by accessed by African farmers through a low-cost, easy-to-use SMS texting service.  Selling more in-depth datasets and analysis to insurance companies and governments would help make AfriWeather a self-funded, sustainable service.

The AfriWeather project is not just a inspirational thought experiment.  The Trans-African HydroMeteorological Observatory (TAHMO) is already designing and deploying low cost weather stations (small footprint sensor arrays) across Africa.  Sophisticated satellite imaging services are available from U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) to provide the required African satellite images.  Charu is not sure she will have the time and resources to deliver the completed AfriWeather service but the need dictates something like it will be realized sometime soon.

During her attendance of the GODAN Summit, Charu was impressed by organizations applying exponential technologies, like blockchain, to the agriculture solutions (for an example, check out AgriLedger).

I am glad I had the opportunity to discuss the AfriWeather project with Charu Jaiswal and thankful for GODAN for providing a forum for it to be recognized.  Young, passionate leaders like Charu already know the immense value of open data, it is up to the rest of us to catch up.

Posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , .