Being big and social for sustainable development
Can Big Data combat world hunger or is it just ‘food for thought?

Can Big Data combat world hunger or is it just ‘food for thought?

Can Big Data combat world hunger or is it just ‘food for thought?’

In 2015, the UN adopted seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), aiming at an inclusive and participatory development. SDG 2 refers specifically to the elimination of world hunger, taking into account that about 10% of the world population is undernourished, with 33% of the produced food for human consumption wasted (primarily postharvest losses) every year [7] [4]. However, Big Data dares to promise a better future on that, focusing mainly on farming with the hope to be able to feed the expected by 2050, 10 billion people of this planet.

Big Data and Advanced Analytics (BDAA), could indeed, organise all this ‘data chaos’ through a systematic approach that would make data constructively usable. Practical examples of such solutions include the redistribution of food surplus, the fund reallocation, and the rural development (FAO and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have launched a half-billion-dollar effort towards this direction) [6]. By collecting, analysing and combining accurate information about agricultural conditions (e.g., seeds varieties and availability, crop stress, etc), food market, and weather data (e.g., rainfall levels or excessive heat), governments could redesign their development practices and policies, and help poor rural areas, where the economy heavily depends on farming, and the community-driven action is minimum [2] [6]

Governments today, harness Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to deal with such large-scale issues, so that Big Data, can become ‘meaningful data’ to the hands of a farmer. That way, they can promote more effective and efficient decision-making (e.g., to identify the local soil type and apply the ideal farming technique), and therefore increasing crop yields. In more specialised cases, Big Data are used to create hydrological models, food-economics forecasts, ‘cloud farming’ portals, and Augmented Reality (AR) simulations, allowing all implicated stakeholders to investigate connections and explore patterns in massive amounts of information, with the aim to optimize farming operation, minimize waste, and reduce environmental impact [5] [6] [3].

However, special attention is required as to who has access to such insurmountable farming data, as they can prove a dangerous weapon to the wrong hands (e.g., unethical agribusiness companies). Undoubtedly, Big Data can revolutionize the way world famine is fought, but issues of transparency and data ethics should always be included in strategies design and policy-making [3] [1].


1. Gilpin, L. (2014). How big data is going to help feed nine billion people by 2050. Retrieved 18 October 2019, from

2. Lefkowitz, M. (2018). Harnessing machine learning and big data to fight hunger | Cornell Chronicle. Retrieved 18 October 2019, from

3. Magnin, C. (2016). How big data will revolutionize the global food chain. Retrieved 18 October 2019, from

4. Mishra, A. (2018). Using big data to feed the world | Do Big Stories | ET CIO. Retrieved 18 October 2019, from

5. Price, D. (2014). Using Big Data To Prevent World Hunger – CloudTweaks. Retrieved 18 October 2019, from

6. Tollefson, J. (2018). Big-data project aims to transform farming in world’s poorest countries. Retrieved 18 October 2019, from

7. United Nations. (2019). Goal 2: Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform. Retrieved 18 October 2019, from


  1. K Strömmer

    Thank you for very intriguing post!

    This remained me of one interesting initiative called 50×2030, which is working closely with this domain as well as, with open data, which you are talking about in your newest post too. As mentioned in their website “The 50 X 2030 Initiative is an ambitious effort to conduct regular surveys of farming households in 50 low and lower-middle income countries by 2030—and then make the data, combined with other information sources, widely available.” ( I thought you mind be interested.

    Also, nicely added the points that data can also be used as a “weapon”, which indeed needs special attention. Do you know how these organizations, such as the Gates foundation, take this into account when doing different projects?

    1. Afrodite Karantonaki

      Thank you for your reply and the provided link. You are absolutely right about this… in fact, most Big Data (and Open Data) initiatives are supposed to be developed with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in mind. Of course, I’m not sure if they always comply with that framework. I’ve also used information from the 2030 Agenda on my article about open data “Open data: Empowering citizens and government for attaining sustainable development.” I’d love to receive your feedback on that too.

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