Investing in use of data key to growth in agriculture in Kenya

Wednesday September 13 2017

James Kasemo, an innovator, uses technology to boost production on his tomato farm in Kaloleni, at Kenya's coastal Kilifi County. PHOTO | WACHIRA MWANGI | NMG

African governments now more than ever require accurate, timely and accessible data to make informed decisions and better respond to their citizens’ development needs.

However, majority of them are facing immense challenges in generating, aggregating and analysing data in general regardless of the economic sectors. In many occasions it has often resulted in slow decision-making, poor co-ordination and inefficient resource allocation.

One of the main challenges is the limited capacity of national statistics offices and other primary data producers, especially in rural and peri-urban locations.

Nevertheless, the demand for data-driven decision-making has only increased as governments work to uplift the living standard of their citizens by increasing productivity, reducing costs and boosting revenues — all of which require data for monitoring and evaluation.

The African Union Agenda 2063 has an ambitious 50-year strategic framework for the socio-economic transformation of the region. It seeks to accelerate the implementation of past and existing initiatives for growth and sustainable development, while uplifting populations from poverty.

This regional commitment, as well as the domestic development goals of member states, and the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), require robust data to be generated by government, private sector, civil society, academia and citizens. What is needed is a data revolution on the continent.


The UN Secretary General’s Independent Expert Advisory Group on Data Revolution for Sustainable Development in their report, “A World that Counts” defined the revolution as a series of transformative actions affecting how data is produced and used that are needed to make it available to respond to the demands of a complex development agenda.

The Data Revolution requires the development of a vibrant ecosystem that actively engages in closing data gaps as well as building capacity of national statistical offices and other data producers including academia and private sector.

Many have said that efforts should focus on data collection, storage and management, analysis and presentation. Engaging and educating citizens in the use of data to promote accountability is also required. Governments, on their part, need to reduce policy bottlenecks that inhibit data sharing.

The government of Kenya is championing data revolution as the key to unlock the potential of many sectors and agriculture in particular, which directly contributes 27 per cent of the GDP.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries and partners have embarked on efforts to leverage innovative approaches geared to solving these unique data and demographic challenges.

Indeed the aim of the recent Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (Godan) ministerial conference in Nairobi was to champion data-driven agriculture. The two-day conference by the Data for Development in Africa group focused on developing the data infrastructure to achieve the SDGs and showing how data partnerships and innovation can drive outcomes in different sectors.

The main outcome of the meeting was the creation of an Intergovernmental Network on Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition bringing together Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. Support will be provided by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Alliance for a Green Revolution (Agra).

This is one of the outcomes of a commitment made through the Cabinet Secretary for Agriculture at the Godan Summit in 2016 in New York.

Godan called upon the ministry to champion the principles of collaboration and use of open data for agriculture and nutrition within G77 nations and its support for the Comprehensive Agreement on Agriculture and Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) in Africa. This network will nurture an inclusive multi-stakeholder ecosystem that includes small-scale farmers, aggregators, processors, and marketers.

At the same time, deliberate efforts will be made to boost the capacities of statistical departments in ministries of agriculture and the respective national statistics offices by increasing financial allocations and human capacity, and the modernisation of data systems of collection and analysis.

In Kenya, the ministry has also been working at the sub-national level, in close collaboration with the Council of Governors and development partners on an agricultural growth and transformation strategy, as well as a youth in agriculture strategy.

The two strategies are expected to contribute to the general availability of data for decision-making in agriculture and nutrition thereby making agriculture more precise and profitable for all by providing information to all players along the entire agricultural value chains.

The benefits of accurate, timely and accessible data in agriculture and other sectors of the economy are expected to be catalytic and significant.

Dr Gabriel Rugalema is the country representative of the Food and Agriculture Organisation. Willy Bett is the Cabinet Secretary for Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries in the government of Kenya.