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Annual Report 2017

Tackling world hunger through technology

Dr. Chris Baker

Can data help solve the problem of world hunger?

Chris Baker, chair of the Department of Computer Science at University of New Brunswick's Saint John campus, is on a quest to harness the power of datasets to help ease hunger and malnutrition.

He was invited to speak at summits in New York and Berlin linked to the United Nations and G20 that brought together world leaders, researchers, farmers and students to examine how open data technology can help tackle one of our society’s most pressing and tragic plights.

“I’m confident we have technology that can help solve this problem,” says Dr. Baker, recognized as one of the top open data experts in Canada.

The summits were convened by the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN), a rapidly growing initiative with more than 500 partners from non-governmental, international and private-sector organizations and national governments. It was born in the wake of the 2012 commitment by leaders of the G-8 countries to establish worldwide food security. Key backers include the governments of the U.S., U.K. and Kenya.

Estimating that some 800 million people in every corner of the globe are affected by debilitating hunger or malnutrition, backers of the GODAN project are convinced that the solution to eliminating hunger lies within existing, but often unavailable, agriculture and nutrition data silos.

Although the issues are complex, the scope sweeping and the technology platforms still in development, the principle behind it all is simple: sharing information on agricultural practices and outcomes on an international scale can help erase hunger.

“With open data, small-scale farmers from Kenya to the United States will be able to get better consultation and advice on what seeds to plant for a better harvest, what will make their soil nutrient-rich again and better understand market conditions to have a more profitable harvest,” says Dr. Baker, who is developing technology commercially that provides integrated data for agricultural consultants so that they can advise farmers based on up-to-date information.