By Benjamin Kwasi Addom, Adviser, Agriculture & Fisheries Trade Policy, Commonwealth Connectivity Agenda
National agricultural data infrastructure (NAgDI) is a long-term but sustainable model to build investment pipelines into the agricultural sector in Commonwealth countries through trusted and reliable data that is managed (verified, validated, and enabled access) by independent regulatory bodies on behalf of the data contributors in each country.
As the world meets again this year at COP28 in Dubai, the “Emirates Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems and Climate Action” calls for the recognition of the food systems as context-specific. The opportunities and challenges within a particular food system are unique to national and regional circumstances, and there is no universal prescription or one-size-fits-all approach for food system transformation.
The Commonwealth is a family with diversity and each member state has individual attributes. The Commonwealth Connectivity Agenda for Trade and Investment (CCA) builds on these principles to boost intra-Commonwealth trade and investment. For most Commonwealth member states, rain-fed agriculture, which depends on the changing climate conditions, remains the key economic driver. Transforming climate-dependent agriculture in Commonwealth countries calls for a new investment approach.
The Emirates Declaration calls for shifting and re-orienting existing investments to enhance the quantity and quality of agriculture and food system investments. To support the current public investments into the agricultural sector in the Commonwealth, the CCA recognises the need for foreign direct investment (FDI). This is only possible if countries (and agribusinesses in the countries) can prove the business case for agriculture through trusted and reliable data.
The modern era heralds data as a resource as precious as oil or gold. Yet, the absence of a coordinated approach to data management in our countries has led to fragmented databases and the associated operational inefficiencies. But the big question is, how can countries do this with the current challenge of duplicated data systems by different stakeholders?
The long-standing spirit of cooperation in the Commonwealth positions the Secretariat to play a crucial role in supporting member countries in harnessing the power of data for future digital sovereignty for their citizens and businesses. The Secretariat is therefore acting as an ecosystem coordinator to support member states in putting in place national infrastructure for managing data, beginning with agriculture/climate data.
In collaboration with national governments, and with financial support from the Open Society Foundations (OSF), the Commonwealth Secretariat has launched an initiative to support member countries to better manage their agricultural/climate data in support of their food systems transformation processes through a model of DPI. This follows an earlier call by the Commonwealth Trade Ministers in their June 2023 meeting in London. The ministers emphasised the need for member states to develop digital public infrastructure (DPI) and connectivity to ensure digital technologies are accessible and affordable for all.
The initiative has begun this year with multi-stakeholder dialogues in Malawi and Ghana of inaction, build consensus on the need for a national infrastructure, and begin the process for its design and development. There are plans to continue the dialogue in Bangladesh the Barbados in 2024.
The Secretariat is committed to supporting its member countries in harnessing the power of data to transform their agricultural sectors. The Secretariat will continue to provide technical assistance and capacity building to its member as they develop their national approaches to agricultural data infrastructure.
The Secretariat is also using COP28 as a platform to provide an opportunity for member states to jointly assess their current approach to agricultural/climate data management and agree on an approach to such infrastructure across the Commonwealth.
For the Commonwealth, a common approach to such an infrastructure for data promises a wealth of benefits, including cost-effective data collection, enhanced agricultural data quality, and improved policy decisions. Such an infrastructure for data will provide a trusted investment pipeline for the private sector to invest in the agricultural and fisheries sectors.
Conversely, inaction threatens to undermine national digital sovereignty, a situation where national governments lose control of their citizens and business data. This is a scenario the Secretariat is determined to avoid through this proactive capacity building for policy formulation and implementation.
For collaboration and investment opportunities on this initiative, contact the Commonwealth Connectivity Agenda for Trade and Investment (CCA): [email protected]