Ichsani Wheeler and Tom Hengl – Everyone has the right and the data to know what is happening on our planet

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Ichsani Wheeler and Tom Hengl, two of the greatest scientists behind EnvirometriX and OpenGeoHub, discuss open data and open source solutions and how they will help the world come up with real solutions. They also tackle the crucial role of farmers and data analysis in our transition to a sustainable but profitable regenerative agriculture. 

Tom and Ichsani are the co-founders of envirometriX, a deep tech group helping businesses & organisations to find the right balance between satellites and samples, and OpenGeoHub, an independent not-for-profit research foundation promoting Open Source and Open Data solutions. They provide solutions & training in cutting-edge open geospatial data & services. Their expertise lies in combining remote sensing with ground data for monitoring essential biodiversity variables at scale.

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Terabytes of data are collected by satellites and remote sensing every day, but what is needed to turn those into decisions? How do we look back from 20 to 40 years ago, and how do we make predictions 20 to 40 years into the future? What do we need if we really want to revegetate the Earth with trees, plants, animals, and more life? 

Raw Data Isn’t Enough  

According to Tom, there are  different levels of data, and the raw data coming fresh from satellites is only the initial level. In order for the data to make sense and be useful in decision making, it needs to undergo processes such as correction before it becomes ready for analysis. Hence, the data could only make sense if it comes with analysis. The concept of data analysis is similar to how Google Maps work—when a user tries to locate a specific place, the user not only gets where the place is, the app also provides other related services such as navigation assistance, route options, etc.  

“The problem is that there’s more and more data, but we have less and less capacity to turn it into decisions.” – Tom Hengl

Data Accessible to All  

If the data is out in the open for everyone to access, many (especially farmers) can explore and take action. One good example is Amazon’s data being released in public around 2005, which resulted in better landscapes that can be proven by the most current we have now. Tom and Ish attribute this improvement to the collaborative effort among farmers and other stakeholders that have access to the data and therefore can share their best regenerative agriculture practices. 

“What we’re trying to enable is every farmer to do their own on farm experimentation, and to be able to have a system that gives them near real time feedback, not specifically on their practices, but just from the point of view of the ecosystem.” – Ish Wheeler

Al Gore, ESA, and OpenGeoHub  

While open data triggers numerous potential on regeneration and sustainability, it also serves profitability. Tom confirmed this through the stories of Al Gore pushing for government-paid data to be released in public and the European Space Agency (ESA) releasing their data in open license. Releasing the data helped many companies grow, which in return provide an economic return. 
OpenGeoHub takes part in helping startups  and other businesses by providing tutorials for complex data analysis. 

“We won’t succeed if it’s just one business trying to eat everything, and own all the things.” – Ish Wheeler 

Focusing on What Matters 

Tom remarks how important it is for those gathering data (especially the very successful ones) that profitability should not directly come from data itself. It should be coming from making use of the data in restoring land, combating climate, making people’s lives better, and other bigger impacts. Hence, data should be made open to be utilized by everyone interested in the space, regardless if  the data will be used in scale, by a farmer with a 30-meter land, by government offices, or by potential startup companies wanting to make a difference. 

“If you do good service, and if you do something good, you know, you should be rewarded for that.” – Tom Hengl

Other Points Discussed 

Koen, Tom, and Ish also talked about the following: 

  • How we can see something changed, but we have no means of knowing why—it’s people in the landscape who could do this job;
  • Having the highest quality training data is key in machine learning;
  • How we don’t have time to do all of the scientific field studies on the new regenerative methods;
  • The triangle between business, politics, and science;
  • Scaled implementation;
  • Investing in technology and knowledge transfer;
  • Investing in ecosystem services.

To know more about Tom Hengl, Ish Wheeler, EnvirometriX and OpenGeoHub, download and listen to this episode. 

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