The recent famine in parts of Africa has brought into sharp focus the need to be able to predict and prevent nutrition crises in Africa, prompting the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, known by its Spanish acronym, CIAT, to convene about 150 delegates at AGRF 2017 to discuss the scope for a nutrition early warning system (NEWS) for Africa.

The event sparked conversations amongst delegates, who represented diverse food and nutrition security actors as well as members of the artificial intelligence fraternity on the requirements for and the potential of a NEWS system.

Speakers at the event included Dr Debisi Araba, CIAT; Allison Greenberg, Action Against Hunger; Dr Jennifer Blanke, African Development Bank; Prof. Ruth Oniang’o, Rural Outreach Africa and African Food Prize 2017 Laureate; Dr Moustapha Cisse, Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research; and Rositsa Zaimova, Dalberg Data Insights.

The panelists criticized the currently siloed approach to tackling food security, agriculture and nutrition related problems as an obstacle to sustainable solutions, with each category of experts lacking visibility of what the others are working on.

A major factor in this is the way data is being collated and presented. Although there is a large amount of data on food and nutrition security, there is a lack of capacity and processes focused on turning that data into insights that can inform corrective actions. Moreover, the packaging of data and models on food security and nutrition is not usually in a format that is easy enough for policymakers to understand and take action from.

According to the experts, Africa needs to build its capacity to manipulate and interpret data. Artificial intelligence has the potential to create a paradigm shift in this area. Examples of this were offered by Dalberg Data Insights, which uses both traditional and non-traditional data on agricultural, food security and nutrition indicators to pick up trends, for instance, spikes in expenditure.

The key takeaway from the session is that Africa needs a data revolution powered by its young people to drive a new green revolution for food and nutrition security for all. In this, smallholder farmers should not be left behind.

The session concluded with a call for continued collaboration amongst the participants on the development of the NEWS.

 

For more information: blog.ciat.cgiar.org/artificial-intelligence-and-big-data-to-fast-track-the-fight-against-malnutrition-in-africa/