Reimagining Jamaica’s Agriculture Data Infrastructure

by Matthew McNaughton

In 2016, the newly elected Jamaican Government set out an ambitious target of achieving 5% GDP growth in four years. To much public surprise, in the third quarter of that year, Jamaica recorded an impressive 2.2% GDP growth rate, the strongest real GDP growth estimate in nine years. The Agriculture sector contributed significantly to this achievement with the sector individually experiencing an estimated real GDP growth of 28% over the previous quarter.

It is important to note, however, that this unusually high growth in the industry has been attributed primarily to improved rainfall after multiple years of extended drought. As a result, while this tangible growth in agricultural production has been undeniably beneficial, real and sustainable expansion of the sector continues to require a departure from the status quo of industry operations.

Agriculture continues its legacy as a critical sector of the Jamaican economy, employing almost 19% of the population and accounting for 9% of GDP. But accelerating the development of the sector is complicated by the predominantly rural and resource-constrained environment in which it operates, which makes it costly to effectively reach and serve the agricultural communities across the island. One impact of this constraint is the difficulty of maintaining up to date records on agricultural activities that are necessary for effectively targeting support and information at those that need it most.

Slashroots extended its ongoing collaboration with the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), the Government arm responsible for providing extension services and managing farmer registration, to assist in addressing this problem through the Agriculture Digital Services (ADS) research project. The ADS project sought to explore how “openness” could be applied to assist in overcoming structural challenges that constrain efforts to close agricultural data gaps and improve decision-making. In reflecting on this challenge and emergent work on the importance of data infrastructure and digital services, the SlashRoots team developed a theory of change positing that data collaborations, built on shared open infrastructure, can improve accessibility of data and distribute the burden of data collection across multiple actors leading to increased information usage and the creation of higher quality data assets and information services.

At the start of 2016, we sat down with RADA to discuss some foundational questions:

  • What were the information needs that RADA was responsible for a meeting?
  • Who were the users that consumed, managed and contributed data and supported the systems necessary to meet these information needs?
  • What were the organization’s channels through which information needs were met and what were the challenges encountered meeting these needs?

More from Matthew McNaughton, Co-founder of Slashroots here.