Technology

New regional digital plan to bridge data gaps in food stocks

farm tech

Kenya is among 27 countries that will soon have a digital system that will play a key role in giving real-time estimates on the availability of food stocks in the region.

Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) are leading the efforts to develop a digital Regional Food Balance Sheet (RFBS) that uses data from a variety of public and private sources to develop the system.

Once fully developed and operational, the RFBS will inform data-driven decisions around production support, trade policy, and stock management by governments, business decision-making and investment by the private sector.

So far six countries including Kenya, Rwanda, Malawi, Uganda, Zambia and Tanzania have been involved in the pilot phase.

The initiative to have a digital system is in response to the lack of reliable, timely, and accurate data for food and nutrition security-related decision-making in many Sub Sahara Africa countries, a situation that was exposed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

In recognition of these data gaps and needs, Comesa Council of Ministers, in 2020 directed its Secretariat, to implement a Comesa-wide RFBS initiative.

This led to a collaborative and multi-stakeholder engagement, which has Comesa as the convener and eventual host of the platform, with support from a range of analytical and technology partners including Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development, NASA Harvest/UMD, Bureau for Food and Agriculture Policy and Tetra Tech.

Development partners supporting the project are the UK government, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, and the United States Agency for Internal Development (USAID).

Last week, Comesa and Agra conducted a physical demonstration of the RFBS platform for review by representatives from the six pilot countries, representing ministries responsible for agriculture, food security, and national statistics agencies.

Addressing the delegates, Comesa Assistant Secretary-General, Kipyego Cheluget said gaps in food system data had made it challenging to understand who were food insecure, where they lived and the level of food insecurity they were experiencing.

“These data gaps left many countries unable to respond effectively to the food needs of their citizens during this Covid-19 pandemic,” said Dr Cheluget.

“Several stakeholders, including, governments, academic institutions, private sector, and humanitarian agencies, collect data, but rarely are these data shared or consolidated into one central database that can be used to inform decision-making by the stakeholders,” he added.

In his remarks, AGRA Vice President, Apollos Nwafor described the RFBS as a suitable tool for estimating the overall shortages and surpluses in the region as well as developing projections of future food supply and demand needs which help in setting targets for agricultural production and trade.

Data for the RFBS will be sourced from historic records from national governments and validated by the Food and Agricultural Organisation, current season estimates from private and public data partners throughout East and Southern Africa, and both real-time and future estimates which use advanced analytics from satellite imagery and other technologies.

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