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Charlotte Schmidt, Yara Matar
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.
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.
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:
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 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.
Based on our research and analysis, we recommend the following:
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.
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