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André Laperrière: international development expert and open-source data advocate

André Laperrière: international development expert and open-source data advocate
21 May
Andre Laperrière is executive director at the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) an initiative aiming to exchange ideas and knowledge to solve the world's looming food crisis

GODAN is a knowledge broker, facilitating the flow of data knowledge in relation to anything that has to do with agriculture on a worldwide basis. We focus on parts of the world that have the greatest potential for agriculture, bearing in the mind the 2050 horizon where in light of climate change and demographics there’s likely to be a global nutrition challenge. So our mission is to address that. We believe that knowledge, open-source data and innovation is the way to work on these challenges.

We started in 2015 as a test to see if there was interest in the world to establish such a global platform, where we could exchange data sources and work on problems and solutions and on how to combine ideas together. The first stage had a lot to do with basic education on open-source data which was not understood, especially by policy makers. Step two was determining how it could be relevant to agriculture, and step three was seeing how it could be relevant to you as a company, a government, a farmer or an association of some kind.

The next step is on how to implement solutions. We have a network of more than 870 organisations across 110 countries and can tap into vast sources of data sets and human talent. We tap into that network linking up the best experts that we think are appropriate to meet the need that’s required, whether it’s a technical, policy or legal issue.

Geographical data is one of the sets of data that proves to generate the most impact in agriculture so it’s very important. Most of the data is at a very high level. To maximise your impact you need to go deeper into that to complement weather or satellite data with drone data or local sensors. The same is true with market data, there’s a lot of top level data in terms of trade, but at the grassroots level, the production and local market level, there is very little information available, unless you set up a system by which you help local players gather it.

When you talk to organisations about opening their data via governments or private sectors, there is instantly a fear that they will make themselves vulnerable to competitors or it will have a negative impact on what they do. Overcoming that fear factor is key. For those who need the data, the issue is more about the direct access to it, and to the technology that uses it. In Ethiopia, they started a hotline two and a half years ago acknowledging the fact that in Ethiopia there is over 80 different languages and there is a very high level of illiteracy. With this hotline agriculture workers can call and reach a person who does have access to the required data who will convey it in a verbal manner using the appropriate local language.

We rely on what we call champions. Strong opinion leaders, either political, technical or local people that have influence that radiates in their environment. They can explain open-source data, show it in action having maybe lived with it themselves.

We also work with governments, not just to come up with the policy but to put in place the basic pillars in their structures. So even if the parties in governments change, at least those who run the mechanics of the government have the policy pillars in place to maintain continuity.

At a recent nutrition conference, I discussed the fact that policies influence the nutritional status of population. Not just talking about how much salt content or sugar should be allowed, but about infrastructure, transport and trade. So we are looking at how to better facilitate the movement of food. Right now there are 800 million people that are malnourished. At the same time, probably 40 per cent of all the food produced in the world is wasted, not being eaten by anyone. So the issues isn’t to produce more, it’s to have the right food at the right time in the right place. Better uses of available data sets can help make that happen.

Our ultimate goal is to make open-source data a normal standard, to be the normal way to do things. I believe our partners are convinced. When that’s the normal things to do, then there may be no more for GODAN. But there will still be reason for people to exchange ideas and knowledge.

1983-1985 Gained an MBA in Management/Information Systems at Laval University, Québec
1992-1994 Was a senior project officer at U.S.A.I.D. working in Guinea
1994-2003 Worked at UNICEF managing aid programmes in Haiti, Ethiopia and Iraq
2003-2007 Became a director at WHO
2011-2014 Appointed deputy CEO of GEF/World Bank
2015 Appointed executive director of GODAN

 This was published in the May 2019 edition of Geographical magazine

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