Agriculture plays a crucial role in Kenya’s economy; more than three-quarters of the population depend on it for their employment, income and food-security needs. But production has declined in recent years; innovation and modernisation are needed to raise farmers’ incomes, ensure food is affordable and allow the nation to reach its full potential. To advance this agenda, the government has been working on a comprehensive ten-year transformation strategy for the sector aimed at driving economic growth and delivering 100 per cent food and nutrition security.
A core ambition within this strategy is to use data to facilitate better decision-making in the sector, leading to improved productivity. For example, access to accurate, comprehensive data would empower government policymakers to target interventions and subsidies where they could be most effective, or help farmers identify the best time to harvest and the best fertilisers to use. Yet significant barriers to realising this goal exist, from a lack of investment in innovation to limited access to useable and shareable data and the absence of a data-governance framework.
To address these challenges, the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBI) has been working to support the Kenyan government on the development of an agricultural-data platform. This platform, called the Agricultural Sector Data Gateway (ASDG), will bring different information streams together within a single hub and serve as a one-stop shop delivering high-quality data to inform government work and help farmers increase yields.
At TBI we believe that technology has the power to change lives and transform countries, a philosophy that underpins our Tomorrow Partnership work connecting governments with tech solutions. This agricultural-data platform will help unlock that power – and move Kenya closer to its goal of food and nutrition security for all.
Solving the Data-Governance Challenge
Kenya is one of Africa’s technological leaders; the government has invested in infrastructure and promoted the use of digital technology and innovation as enablers of growth. When TBI became involved with the agricultural-data platform in 2021, the government had already set out the strategy and wanted support on delivery. With TBI staff embedded in the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development’s Agriculture Transformation Office, collaborative work on advancing the project began.
Government departments, private-sector companies and development partners already had useful agricultural-sector data sets. But accessing this information had been difficult, with data sets stored in locations that are not interoperable with others. The lack of joined-up data meant it was hard to assess the impact of programmes, while data duplication meant some initiatives were covering the same ground.
To move forward, organisations’ reluctance to share data, whether because they viewed it as a resource or wanted to protect farmers’ privacy, had to be addressed. The team mapped out stakeholders across the sector and began a process of engagement and trust-building. It became clear that a data-governance framework setting out policies, processes and structures to ensure that information would be stored securely and handled confidentially in compliance with Kenya’s Data Protection Act was needed – and would be crucial to the platform’s success. Together the team developed the first data-governance framework within any Kenyan ministry, delivering a blueprint that can be replicated across other ministries.
Delivering a Viable Product
TBI brought in an enterprise architect to liaise with stakeholders on the systems and infrastructure needed to support the platform. Under the design, stakeholders sign data-sharing agreements allowing users to interact through an application programming interface (API); the platform effectively becomes a broker between two parties, so the data-owner retains ownership but grants access to users. Data-owners can limit the fields that users can access to protect people’s personal information. Previously this work might have been done manually – by going through an Excel spreadsheet to anonymise it, for example – but the platform streamlines this process.
Development work on the platform began in late 2022. With funding from GIZ, the German Agency for International Cooperation, and infrastructure support from Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization and Konza Technopolis, the team built a minimum viable product (MVP), which is currently available online at www.agdata.go.ke. It includes farmers’ data across different value chains, sourced from the farmers’ registry. Other data sets relate to weather, pests and diseases, good agronomic practices, and crop and livestock prices.
Building the MVP proved the use case to stakeholders and demonstrated that the platform could be delivered. Now the aim is to scale the platform, integrating more data streams and enabling broader usage. This week, TradeMark Africa signed a memorandum of understanding with the ministry to provide support for integration and scaling, including funding more software developers.
Providing Pathways for Innovation
As the platform grows, it will serve multiple groups. The primary users will be government decision-makers who need data to determine where to direct resources and to track the impact of their interventions. The private sector and development partners will be able to use the data to identify opportunities and assess programme outcomes. Farmers will be able to access information to inform their decisions on when and what to plant, which products to use and current market prices. The data will also help drive innovation; data from multiple stakeholders could, for example, be collated into a land-suitability map to help farmers understand which crops would thrive on their farms.
Plans for a formal launch of the platform are underway, but the project is already attracting attention. In July, it received an Award of Merit from The Open Group India for its use of open standards and open-source software. The consortium cited the project’s “meticulous approach to architecture design” and concluded that it would optimise information exchange and empower data-driven decision-making.
Many aspects of this project have been deeply rewarding. Overall, the fact that the ASDG has gone from a strategy to a delivered product in a comparatively short space of time represents a real success. The new data-governance framework adds an important building block to the government’s toolkit for future digital projects. And the team’s current expansion is an exciting move that reflects both the progress that has been made to date and the avenues that can be explored going forward.
Achieving 100 per cent food and nutrition security in Kenya is a major challenge. Earlier this year, the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification predicted that 5.4 million Kenyans would experience acute food insecurity during the first half of 2023 due to drought. Looking ahead, climate change and rising living costs will inevitably impact people’s lives and livelihoods. But developing initiatives such as the ASDG, which unlocks the power of seamless data exchange to drive transformation and deliver benefits to citizens, can help mitigate these impacts and move the nation forward on the path to prosperity.