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Lead by example and inspire how big data can deliver development outcomes

Data is much more than simply information: in expert hands, it is intelligence.

Global agriculture is increasingly driven by data. Advances in computing power, data storage, and data communications over the last 30 years have given rise to powerful tools for helping make farming and food systems more precise, profitable, and adaptive. Newer digital innovations — including machine learning, the expansion of connected sensor technologies, and robotics — promise more dramatic changes in the farming landscape in the near future.

However, digital agriculture worldwide has not realized its full potential. Despite very active promotion from industry, to date, the real rates of adoption of precision agriculture have been slow in most industrialized economies, where market offerings tend to favor large farms or high-value specialty crops. Farmers, and those who serve them, must navigate an array of competing standards for equipment and services. Farm data ownership and, as a result, the best way forward for the free flow of data, remains unclear.

The rapid growth in processing power and global connectivity means we can now quickly collect, share and analyze enormous amounts of data to reveal new ways to reduce hunger and poverty and develop robust responses to climate change, disease, and land degradation challenges.

The CGIAR Platform for Big Data in Agriculture serves to provide leadership in organizing open data, convening partners, and demonstrating the power of big data analytics through inspiring projects.

The Challenge Grant

We are challenging partners, universities, and others to use CGIAR data to create innovative pilot projects that will scale. We’re looking for novel approaches that democratize data-driven insights to inform local, national, regional, and global policies and applications in agriculture and food security in real time; helping people–especially smallholder farmers and producers–to lead happier and healthier lives.

Winning teams will receive $100,000 to put their ideas into practice. Teams will have 12 months to implement small-scale proof of concept pilots to demonstrate viability. Successful pilots will be placed on the trajectory to wider-scale implementation, including the possibility of receiving an additional $250,000 of scale-up funding. Successful pilots will also have additional help in finding continued funding and widespread adoption within CGIAR, to ensure that these innovations become a part of how we operate system-wide.

Challenge Categories

Revealing Food Systems

Revealing Food Systems

Monitoring Pests & Diseases

Disrupting Impact Assessment

Disrupting Impact Assessment

Empowering Data-Driven Farming

Empowering Data-Driven Farming

Empowering Data-Driven Farming

Sensing and Renewing Ecosystems



Combines multiple data sources and adds value to them through data fusion or analysis, mobilizing underused or misused data – especially CGIAR data.



The project has potential to serve the needs of a growing user base and the interface is well designed and specific to the
problem, with the data, procedure for use, and code base well documented.


Enhances stakeholder ability to make decisions problem statement, rationale, process and outputs of the product clearly support decision making affecting the farm level.


Narrative clearly indicates hardware, software, human resources required to install/maintain/run the product, and good documentation is provided.


Proposal is a real game changer with the potential to transform food systems. It is not basic research nor solely targeted towards sustaining ongoing research.



Pitch and demonstration is compelling, well organised, and clearly illustrates the relationship of the problem to the proposed solution.


The preliminary assessment will be managed by the Inspire Challenge management team for their responsiveness to the key criteria of the Challenge.

This pre-assessment focuses on three key categories:

  • Meaningful collaboration – leveraging partners’ capabilities to create something more than the sum of its parts;
  • Innovativeness of the proposal – how new or groundbreaking the idea is; and
  • Data mobilization of underused or misused data – especially mobilizing CGIAR data

While the use of CGIAR data streams is encouraged, all forms of CGIAR + outside organization collaboration demonstrating leading-edge uses of data are applicable for this prize.
Finalists of this pre-assessment will be notified and invited to present their proposals to a panel of judges and their peers at the Platform for Big Data in Agriculture Convention in Nairobi, Kenya from October 3-5, 2018. The judging panel will be comprised of leading sector experts from public, private, and non-profit sectors.

Meaningful collaboration


Data mobilization

Our Inspire Challenges are about ensuring

Information = Impact


All teams participating must be comprised of a variety of actors to ensure a diversity of thought and perspectives. To encourage long-term adoption and easy access to our data, they must include a CGIAR center and be embedded within a CGIAR Research Program, and include a non-CGIAR entity of any type.


Inspire Challenges are about solving big problems using next-generation ideas. We’re looking for bold, novel ideas that leverage the expansion of big data and digital technologies to unlock new scientific discoveries or enhance the agriculture development enterprise.
We want innovative ideas with promising potential for social impact that use open data to solve development problems faster, cheaper and with greater efficiency.

Proposals for funding basic research (where the path to positive impacts is still unclear) or targeted towards sustaining ongoing research, will probably be considered unresponsive to the Challenge.


We’re looking for big ideas, but recognize that big risks do not always work out. This is why we will be measuring the impact of the approaches developed and systematically learning from successes as well as failures; documenting along the way to help drive future investments in big data-related agricultural innovations.

Lessons learned will be documented and published, alongside policy briefs and best practice guidelines, which will be shared with our network to improve the next generation of big data in agriculture research.

The Platform for Big Data in Agriculture is rooted in global action; managing and sharing vast amounts of agricultural research information around the world, from universities to last mile communities.

Need more information? Check out our frequently asked questions below.