A responsible data perspective deals with the ethical, legal, privacy, and security challenges that come from new users of data in various sectors and essential to implement when opening up agricultural data. The following is an excerpt from Responsible Data in Agriculture. Please look at the full document for case studies and other stories about responsible data publication.

Responsible Data Challenges

Potential for data breaches

  • Data breaches are not uncommon and are growing in number
  • It can be difficult to assess the consequences of data breaches

Sensitive data

  • Depending on different contexts and people, different datasets could be considered sensitive
  • There is a need to anonymise or restrict access to data on human subjects and their personally identifiable information
  • Great care should also be taken with data on community-held land, resources and agriculture, especially when it comes to data on water resources and land use rights

Data ownership

  • Currently, actors with more resources are able to gather more data and better understand the legal environment surrounding that data. As a result, it is easier to for resourced actors to benefit from data-drive insights, rather than people actually reflected within that data
  • In many cases, once a farmer’s data is aggregated with other farmers’ data, this is then considered to be in the ownership of the company responsible

Vulnerable communities

  • Vulnerable communities include indigenous populations, migrant farmers and displaced smallholder farmers lacking basic land rights, and women (and the intersections of each of these). These groups must have special attention paid to them.
  • A large concern among indigenous communities is protecting who has access to data – with particular concern about the data getting into the hands of transnational corporations and large multinational companies
  • There is a fear of sharing sensitive information with malicious actors looking to profit from that knowledge
  • For women with precarious land rights, data that makes it visible that they are managing or using the land without legal rights might make it easier for external actors to gain those land rights



Given the huge power disparities present within actors in the agricultural sector, it comes as no surprise that there are a number of tensions when it comes to the use, creation and analysis of data.

Farm profiling

Data gathered from sensors and hi-tech farm equipment, alongside satellite imagery, census data and geospatial data, provides information about a farm and its activities, sometimes without the active consent of the farmer. It’s likely to affect what kind of products farmers are sold. Though this might improve marketing
strategies of companies, it might also limit the options open to farmers, or affect prices offered to them.

Benefit sharing

Benefits of open data must be shared across all actors. Data in the agricultural sector is sometimes exploited by well-resourced actors without any resulting benefit being shared with the original population.

Information asymmetry

Different actors within the sector have vastly different levels of access to information. The people suffering most from these information gaps are those with the least
resources to spare: rural farmers, smallholder farmers, or those unable to pay for access to databases or technology that would make accessing the information easier for them.

Known unknowns

There is a lack of transparency around what’s really happening with farmers’ data. Not knowing where the data is going or what it is being used for makes it difficult to judge how seriously they should be taking this issue.

Best practices

There are a number of best practices suggested as ways to mitigate the responsible data challenges mentioned above. Many of these are not unique to the agriculture sector, but rather speak to broad responsible data best practices.

Education and awareness

  • Educating farmers on their rights to data and information, and strengthening their capacity to make sure of information to inform their practices
  • Increasing awareness of smallholder farmers to defend their rights to data, information and knowledge is crucial

Establishing and regularly reviewing polices

  • Proactive recognition of the inequalities at play when it comes to data use in the agriculture sector is a prerequisite to ensuring that new data uses are sure to mitigate rather than strengthen these inequalities
  • Focused policies which look at internal management and use of data to ensure that they are working in a responsible and ethical way

Strengthening and enabling rights of vulnerable people

  • Declarations around farmer’s rights, such as the Privacy and Security Principles for Farm Data, exist, but unless farmers have the awareness and resources to defend their rights, there can be no accountability for principles like these.
  • International organizations need to recognize this and train their members on
    how to advocate for their rights as well as better understand the use of their information.

Prioritising contextual considerations

  • Choices around how best to disseminate information are being made based upon existing information systems and cultural understandings of various technologies. In some cases radio is best, in others, SMS or IVR is best
  • Sharing the decision-making responsibility with people from the communities themselves seems to be the best way of ensuring no harm or negative unintended consequences.
  • Co-design methods and collaboration early on is recommended as way of getting solid buy-in from relevant communities
  • Those with the fewest resources, such as indigenous populations and smallholder farmers, are most at risk of having their needs ignored. Without awareness of their rights, or of how their data is being used and the subsequent effects, inequalities are at risk of growing due to data—driven insights, rather than being reduced. There’s a clear need to build capacity among these actors.
  • Practicing responsible data approaches should be a key concern and policy of all actors, from ministries to companies gathering large amounts of data, to policy makers to smallholder farmers.
  • Without a proactive, responsible approach, there is a very real risk of changes benefiting only the most powerful actors within the sector.