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Zero Hunger through Sound Agricultural Data

Zero Hunger through Sound Agricultural Data

Written by

Charlotte Schmidt, Yara Matar

Published on

January 17, 2023

In achieving SDG 2 – Zero Hunger, few development practitioners prioritize agricultural data. Many countries, especially LMICs do not have systems in place to collect accurate and up-to-date data to make informed agricultural policy decisions. It is estimated that about US$264 billion is invested annually in agriculture in LMICs by both governments and businesses, often without analyzing the basic data necessary to optimize decision-making and agricultural programming.

Agricultural data is important at the national level for policymakers and market participants to make well-informed policy decisions and channel investments into areas that are most promising and in need. In turn, the data also tracks the effects of policy change and informs necessary course corrections. Additionally, data is important at the global level to track the SDGs and to ensure global funding streams are channeled to the right areas. Many LMICs are not able to report on SDG 2 - Zero Hunger indicators, such as ‘average income of small-scale food producers by gender’ or even ‘agricultural areas that follow sustainable production protocols’ due to a lack of up-to-date national agricultural data. Better data is needed to steer the future of the agricultural sector and support the work towards achieving SDG 2.

Why is data on the agricultural sector important?

Agriculture data has a major effect on other development sectors, especially climate change, gender equality, and food security.

The economies of many LMICs rely heavily on the agriculture sector as an economic base. In some least developed countries, agriculture contributes to over 25% of GDP. Employing a large share of the world’s living poor, many of them women, the sector has the potential to significantly contribute to poverty reduction and improve gender equality and WEE. The agriculture sector is tightly linked to climate change with carbon dioxide from agriculture accounting for 25% of global greenhouse emissions. Accessing and analyzing agricultural data is crucial in identifying areas where policymakers can improve sustainability and design the right economic incentives for farmers to switch to more climate-conscious practices. With increases in extreme weather events and degrading soil quality, it is essential for governments to have key information on their agricultural sector to sustain food secure and healthy populations.

How are gaps in agricultural data being filled?

The Agricultural Data Gap remains a key issue, but initiatives responding to this gap have emerged.

The topic of agricultural data is often deprioritized by LMICs due to a lack of funding, with budgets focused on other competing national issues. In addition, LMICs sometimes lack the technical capacity to set up a complex data system, including designing holistic surveys, regularly collecting, and analyzing data, and translating it into case studies that can be replicated by policymakers.

For donors, the topic is often not a top agenda item given the difficulty to measure the direct impact of investments in agricultural data. Recently however, some donors have started picking up the topic in light of the increasing focus on food security and climate change (see below).

The 2007 International Statistical Institute Conference on Agricultural Statistics kicked off the discussion on the lack of accurate agricultural data related to the Millennium Development Goals. Since then, a global strategy and action plan have been developed and several initiatives looking to address the agricultural data gap have emerged.

In 2011, the World Bank in collaboration with FAO prepared the Global Strategy on Agricultural and Rural Statistics (GSARS) as an initial step in setting guidelines to address the agricultural data gap. The strategy, endorsed by the UN Statistical Commission, aims to address developing countries’ need to provide reliable statistical data on food and agriculture and looks to define a global blueprint for long-term sustainable agricultural statistical systems. An action plan was developed out of the strategy to identify potential interventions that can support countries’ agricultural data gathering. The 2020-2025 action plan highlights the need for self-sustaining national agricultural statistical systems, a more skilled workforce in the national statistics space, as well as more cost-effective data collection systems and approaches. Beyond the GSARS and its related action plans, there are several additional initiatives working to address the agricultural data gap. These include:

  • FAO’s Agricultural Integrated Survey (AGRISurvey) Programme which was launched in 2017 borrowing from the AGRISurvey methodology. It originally consisted of a 10-year modular data collection scheme and was a milestone for rural information. The program supported countries in improving and strengthening their national agricultural survey systems and collecting and disseminating regular agricultural data. It served a total of 9 countries including Armenia, Cambodia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Georgia, Nepal, Senegal, Uganda, and Uruguay and was funded with over US$16 million by donors such as the US government and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The program is now being continued under the 50x2030 initiative (see below).
  • The World Bank’s household survey - Living Standards Measurement Study- Integrated Surveys on Agriculture (LSMS-ISA) launched in 2018. Based in 8 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa (Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Malawi, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda), the project produces essential agricultural data and is supported by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The survey entails multiple rounds of data collection with the aim to improve understanding of the links between agriculture, socioeconomic status, and non-farm income activities.
  • 50x2030 initiative hosted by the World Bank and implemented in partnership with FAO and the International Fund for Agricultural Development to continue the work of the AGRISurvey. The initiative aims to close the agricultural data gap in 50 LMICs in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America by 2030, serving many more countries than past surveys. With a modular approach, it supports countries in monitoring essential SDG 2 indicators and in resolving national data needs. It has been supported by donors such as the US, Germany, Italy, Australia and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It is co-financed by implementing countries themselves to ensure the sustainability of the program. 50x2030 aims to help those 50 countries unlock $500 million in funding towards their agricultural data programs, with roughly 40% of the funding secured by the countries themselves through zero or low interest loans (e.g., through IDA funding) and around 60% provided by the initiative in the form of grants (from sovereign and private donors). This points to the need for more funding from donors to help close the agricultural data gap.

Which donors are prioritizing agricultural data improvement?

The OECD’s ODA data helps to illuminate which donors may support agricultural data in the future.

We took a closer look at the OECD data and came up with a methodology to identify sovereign donors that might have an interest in the topic. We looked at:

  • Donors overall ODA outlook to get a sense of any potential future increases or cuts that might affect their contributions to the agriculture space;
  • Donors interest in the agriculture sector by looking at their current spending to ODA in agriculture and its outlook;
  • Donors’ interest in key topics that would also benefit from increased spending on agricultural data, including nutrition, food security, climate adaptation (in the agriculture sector), and gender; and
  • Donors’ contributions to statistical capacity building in LMICs, which remains low, but was used as a proxy indicator to identify where global interest is currently concentrated.

Donors with the highest interest in agricultural data (from highest to lowest)

Source: OECD 2020 ODA data (latest data set available at the time of the study in 2022)

Note: Our analysis only looked at sovereign donors in the space given the availability of data on their historical contributions. However, private organizations and philanthropies have an interest in the topic too, with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation standing out as a key private donor for agricultural data initiatives (with significant contributions to the 50x30 initiative over the past few years).

Given their steady ODA growth and their strong support for the agriculture sector as well as other relevant topics (i.e., nutrition, food security, climate, gender), the US, Germany, EU, Japan, and France stand out as the top 5 donors most likely to invest in agricultural data in the future. The UK also ranks high in terms of alignment to the topic but might be a more difficult donor to reach in the medium-term, given their recent ODA cuts.

When advocates and agricultural data initiatives are looking to mobilize resources for agricultural development, it will be crucial for them to tailor their messaging to each donor and tell a compelling a story around the impact of agricultural data, which often goes beyond the agricultural sector.

What do we need to move forward?

Based on our research and analysis, we recommend the following:

  • Position agricultural data in the global agenda: The Global Action Plan clearly calls out the need for more agricultural data advocacy and resource mobilization at the global and national levels. To attract attention and funding, the linkages between agricultural statistics and poverty reduction, gender equality, and climate change need to be made clearer. 50x2030 and other initiatives need to build strong partnerships with related partners, such as the SDG 2 Hub, to build a case for the importance of the issue and to engage donors and national policymakers in this debate.
  • Increase and sustain funding: Data collection and analysis are costly, and donors will need to increase their support to agricultural data initiatives such as 50x2030 to produce results. In addition, the funding model adopted needs to ensure the continuity of agricultural data programs as data needs to be regularly updated. This means that countries would benefit from looking into co-financing approaches in the long-term.
  • Align interests: There are different interests at play. While donors might be more focused on tracking SDGs and other global indicators, LMICs often want hands-on data insights for national policy making. Initiatives need to carefully align interests and find solutions that cater to everyone’s needs.
  • Coordinate initiatives: A variety of actors such as the World Bank, International Fund for Agricultural Development, and FAO have been involved in ongoing initiatives. The Global Action Plan calls for better coordination between different efforts. Organizations should look to identify shared interests to avoid competing for the same resources, such as ensuring that their respective geographic areas of focus or adopted surveys are not overlapping but complementary.

Sound agricultural data is crucial for effective policy-making in LMICs and the achievement and monitoring of SDG 2 – Zero Hunger. Although many initiatives have begun to work towards closing the agricultural data gap, more advocacy efforts are needed to place this topic on the global agenda and ensure adequate funding for it in the future. In addition to traditional bilateral funding, alternative funding streams through the private sector should also be considered by national government, if the right levels of control around privacy and data protection can be applied.

Charlotte Schmidt

Charlotte Schmidt

Yara Matar

Yara Matar

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