Skip to main content

Commons in Action

"Commons in action" is a joint program by the IASC and the Elinor Ostrom Award. The animation was done by the Viumasters. Get to know their work at

FES Story image
OSS Story image
GAIA Story image

Open AIR: Sharing agricultural data openly can help feed the world

Agricultural data like weather patterns, market prices, and agricultural inputs are vital to farmer organizations and food production. But while farmers generate a lot of the information, they rarely have legal rights to use it.

Now, a joint African-Canadian project is proposing a solution: “A Data Commons for Food Security,” designing a licensing model to allow farmers to benefit from the data sets to which they contribute. Currently, companies and governments who collect agricultural data have broad freedom to claim ownership of the data and choose whether to offer “open access” to it. Even when farmers have access to the data, they have no control over it.

The proposed license would benefit key people involved in agricultural data by addressing farmers’ needs for privacy, control, and benefit sharing when gathering data. This would, in turn, encourage more farmers to participate. Small and medium sized companies that collect data would benefit from a licensing model that better protects farmers, because that protection encourages trust and openness. The South African enterprise Abalobi,, for example, achieved traction with fisherfolk because they have built rights of control, access, and privacy into their design. Their experience shows that all parties benefit from data protection.

Based on the successful Creative Commons and Fair Trade movements, “A Data Commons for Food Security” proposes an organization to develop the licensing process to create a common data resource. The organization would work through engagement with both farmers and data collectors, and would also act as a social certification, allowing companies to show they follow best data collection practices.

The implications of a “data commons” could extend beyond agriculture, as this model could become a standard for data collection in general, and ultimately rebalance the relationship between those who provide data and those who collect it.

Principal Researcher
Jeremiah Baarbé
Juris Doctor (JD) Candidate, University of Ottawa

Media enquiries
Victoria Schorr
Program Manager, Open AIR, Ottawa
phone: 613-562-5800 ext. 3097

Nan Warner
Project Manager, Open AIR, Cape Town
phone: +27 21 650 2317

The newly proposed model has been developed by researchers from the Open African Innovation Research Network ( Open AIR;, a multi-disciplinary network of researchers from fifteen African countries, Canada, and elsewhere working to recognize Africa’s role in the global knowledge economy. It builds on early research regarding “Ownership of Open Data”, done in collaboration with GODAN, an initiative on Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition.

Funding for this research was provided by the Canada First Research Excellence Fund through the Global Institute for Food Security and P2IRC the Plant Phenotyping and Imaging Research Centre, and by SSHRC the Social Science and Humanities Research Council, and IDRC the International Development Research Council.

impact story picture

Crop scientist (Scott Bauer, USDA ARS, Wikimedia Commons)

impact story picture

Photo by OpenAIR

Share it: