Food security — the big data opportunity

Big data is a big opportunity that is more than knowing who will buy a $1,000 handbag.

Afterbefore has a list of the 10 big things we must have to achieve global food security to 2050 and beyond

Here is a closer logic look at one of them

Big data converted to evidence to prospect opportunities, monitor efficiency, and provide reassurance for production and environmental values.

In most jurisdictions, there is usually a government department for agriculture, a separate one or two for the environment, another for planning, perhaps one for water, and now one for climate change.

Why would we do this? If the environment provides space to live in, the food we eat, our connection to nature and a host of life-sustaining services, surely we need to see it as a whole and not as a separate set of competing activities, each with their own champions.

I am sorry. I got a little carried away there and let my progressive proclivities get the better of me.

Of course, the reason is that we crave order and must have everything thought through and packaged by experts in different disciplines. It is how humans have been since we organized beyond the extended family.

We celebrate this expertise and the ability to acquire it. Our educational culture progresses individuals into narrow areas of knowledge and skill, partly because there is a limit to what any one individual can know, but mainly because it creates opportunities for individual success. Either way, we are comfortable in our knowledge bunkers.

Big data changes all this.

What big data means is the ability to capture, sort and interpret vast amounts of attribute and process information from all disciplines almost at once. Inside our computers is the ability to understand the whole as the sum of its individuals and their behaviours. Environment, market, and social data exist in unparalleled profusion in machines that no longer strain at the enormity of it.

The opportunity is to mine this data resource to understand how the whole works.

In food security, this means everything from figuring out what people want to eat to how best to share or spare land. It is data to understand how to shorten supply chains, improve the efficiency of degraded soils, and select land management that will reduce production risk. It is data not just on the genetics of each sheep in the flock but where on the paddock that sheep chooses to graze.

Data can populate scenarios of current and future policy on everything from trade agreements to koala conservation — separately and in combination.

It is possible to create a data-driven estimate of just about any future, however good, bad or ugly. There is nothing to stop us having a realistic idea of what feeding 7 billion people will look like with and without fossil fuels or with long or short supply chains.

Big data has some social and psychological challenges (Big challenge for big data) because we have come a long way without it. And, as always, there are some technical issues to fix that will happily consume our creative bandwidth.

For global food security, big data easily makes the ’10 big things’ list as a huge opportunity to harness evidence to our individual and collective advantage as we stumble into an increasingly risky future.


Afterbefore uses big data sources and modeling to help understand the impact of management and climate on future production scenarios.

Contact us for more information.

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