Food security dashboard
The war in Ukraine is affecting the food market, but how exactly, and for how long, is still difficult to predict. Wageningen University & Research has now conducted a preliminary analysis into this impact. One product that has resulted from the analysis is a free and openly accessible dashboard where all the relevant data can be found. “It’s pretty unique that all that data is accessible through a single, interactive website,” says Data Architect Eugene Westerhof.
The war in Ukraine underlines the fact that such conflicts do not only lead to humanitarian crises, but also often impact the global food supply. While the war has led to shortages of raw materials for organic fodder and sunflower oil, it has also revealed that we are not reliant on Ukrainian grain, because the Netherlands mainly imports this from Germany and France. Food producers, policymakers and politicians need to have rapid insight into such data on trade flows to ensure the security of supply of essential products.
At the request of the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (LNV), Wageningen University & Research carried out a preliminary analysis of the impact of the war on food security to be able to respond to such developments. The Netherlands imports various products from Ukraine, such as cereals, oilseeds and oils (both organic and regular), but is also losing export markets because of the war; not only in Ukraine (for example products like cocoa, tobacco, dairy, eggs and flowers), but – due to the sanctions – also in Russia and Belarus.
As part of this analysis, Data Architect Eugene Westerhof and Data Management Product Owner Mark Dolman, both of Wageningen Economic Research, created an interactive Ukraine dashboard using OpenUp, a data solution the institute already had in use.
What is OpenUp?
“OpenUp is a project we carried out to develop a data management platform,” explains Westerhof. “It allows us to effectively manage all data flows at our institute. We built it when we realised that researchers were somewhat left to their own devices when it came to data management. They stored their files on their own computers and then shared that data, for example over the e-mail as Excel files. This was clearly an undesirable situation. We have now centralised all data exchanges using OpenUp. We also recorded information relating to the researchers’ knowledge of the data (metadata). Metadata makes it possible to combine data from different sources and makes data searchable. Thanks to OpenUp, all researchers now have a place where they can safely store their own data, but also search through other people’s data. Because it is such an efficient and effective system, we decided to use it to build an interactive website with a dashboard for LNV.”
How does the dashboard work?
“The dashboard is an interactive app that you can also view on your phone,” says Dolman. “It displays data about trade with Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. The latter two countries are included because trade is also impacted by the sanctions on these countries. For example, the first sanctions left Dutch cut flowers withering at the Russian border, because they could no longer be imported. In the dashboard, you can select any traded commodity – such as sunflower oil, seeds, crop protection agents, or grains – and view its current status. You can see what volumes are being traded and how the market is responding. So you could use the dashboard to see whether the Netherlands is self-sufficient in certain product categories or that shortages are threatening.”
Where is the data for the interactive dashboard sourced from?
“It concerns both public data, such as trade data from the European statistical office Eurostat, and data that we collect and generate ourselves at WUR, for example through our consumer surveys,” says Dolman. “Our data specialists add their own knowledge to the data in OpenUP, enriching it and making it available to other researchers in this way. It is precisely this combination of knowledge that makes the dashboard an excellent starting point for knowledge-driven research.” “It’s pretty unique that all that data is accessible in a single, interactive website,” adds Westerhof.
Were there any surprises during the project?
“That we were able to build the dashboard so quickly,” answers Dolman. “We received the request from LNV on Wednesday morning, and by Friday afternoon we had our first concept. Thanks to OpenUp, we already knew how to rapidly extract the right information from huge amounts of data and translate it into meaningful information for policymakers and researchers.”
“This is mainly thanks to our earlier investment in OpenUp,” continues Westerhof. “We have been professionalising and automating the system for over three years. We are now reaping the benefits of this. But alongside this investment, our unique approach also plays a role. Because we paid a lot of attention to describing the data properly, we now have the benefit of easily searchable domain terms. That makes the system very user friendly. Not only researchers specialised in a particular field can use the dashboard, but anyone who is interested in the subject.”
Who else can use the dashboard besides LNV?
“Companies in the agri-food sector,” says Dolman. “The dashboard is free, in English and accessible to everyone.”
What other opportunities do you see?
“The sector organisations now also know where to find us,” Dolman continues. “For example, we are developing dashboards for the margarine and vegetable oil sector, the fishing industry and the fruit and vegetables sector. Those dashboards are populated with trade data, but you can also put together datasets that combine production, trade and consumption figures. We are going to experiment with that.”
“These dashboards will not be publicly available, but only accessible to the members of the sector organisations, who will pay us an annual fee to access them,” adds Westerhof. “In addition to a dashboard that is continuously updated, they will also get online and offline support. We are also considering a subscription model with additional services. For example, if they want to use certain data to write a report for publication, we could charge them more for it.”
Is there a follow-up to the project?
“Definitely!” says Dolman. “We plan to publish a ‘State of Agriculture, Nature and Food’ on an interactive website. This will be a cross-domain project, so we will be looking at trade indicators, but also at hundreds of other indicators in the fields of agriculture, nature and food, such as endangered species, grazing systems, the use of crop protection agents and employment. There really is still a world to be won with all that data.” “We are not data brokers: we don’t sell data, we sell insights,” adds Westerhof.
Data science and artificial intelligence are revolutionising how we explore the potential of nature to improve our quality of life. In this series of Impact Stories, we show how these digital technologies are impacting our daily lives. WUR and its public and private partners play a critical role in integrating these technological advancements in the domains of climate change, biodiversity, feeding the world, circular economy and healthy food & living.
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