This week we’ve been thinking about information. Specifically the type of information on agriculture and rural development that is available, how useful it is and to who. A lot of data and statistics went into the writing of One Billion Hungry and some was hard to find, out of date or non-existent. Indeed statistics, such as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) estimate of the number of chronically hungry people in the world, are often challenged because there are so few rigorous and comparable data sets available on food security and agriculture.
Yet policymakers often base investments in international development around evidence and farmers too must have access to clear and credible information in order to be competitive in the market. Ensuring information is timely, relevant and reliable, therefore is an important challenge. A recent paper by researchers at Tulane University investigated the impact of Food and Nutrition Security Information (FNSI) and its shortcomings concluding that while more conventional forms of data must be expanded in coverage, greater types and sources of data that come with increased connectivity must also be utilised.
Greater access to information can also help solve global challenges. As discussed in Chapter 1, we face the threat of repeated food price spikes, of which we have seen three since 2007. In 2011, the G20, in response to increased food price volatility, established the Agricultural Market Information System, with the idea that if information on the production, trade, use and storage of four globally important crops, wheat, rice, maize and soybean, is more transparent then policy action in response to market uncertainty can be coordinated and potentially dangerous and inaccurate speculation can be avoided. The coordination of policies and development of common strategies is undertaken by the Rapid Response Forum, whose second meeting is to take place on 20th February 2013.
Traditionally the main sources of data for agriculture and development have been FAOstat and the World Bank World Development Indicators but this is by nature very broad and there are a lot of gaps. Global data does not always give us a good picture of food security on the ground. In order to overcome this, household surveys have been developed by the World Food Programme to understand the food security situation in certain developing countries. Chapter 2 of One Billion Hungry details one particular household survey in Rwanda, which was recently conducted for the third time in 2012. A recent paper by The Development Research Group of the World Bank discusses how household surveys can be improved and better utilised.
In order to develop better data sets we must understand where the gaps in our knowledge are. Agriculture and nutrition are intuitively thought to be linked but the evidence that agricultural development programmes increase people’s nutrition is missing, and for a variety of reasons. Two studies which have identified clear research gaps were conducted by the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and the Leverhulme Centre of Integrative Research on Agriculture and Health (LCIRAH). Both indicated that greater research is needed in the area of agriculture and nutrition, and that baseline studies, well developed indicators and effective monitoring and evaluation are critical to ensuring that investments in agricultural development bring real benefits for nutrition security.
But it is not only policy makers, donors and development practitioners who require information. Farmers rely on information. About the weather, new technologies, best practices, market prices and so on. Traditionally this information may have come from a state run extension service but more and more these services are disappearing because they are expensive to maintain. Here information and communication technologies (ICT) are having a significant impact and a Guardian article lays out some of the new tools that have been developed for farmers to access information.
And from the level of the farmer to the highest levels of decision making. In 2011, the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition supported by the G8 and African leaders announced their commitment to “achieve sustained and inclusive agricultural growth and raise 50 million people out of poverty over the next 10 years”. In particular this included a commitment to “share relevant agricultural data available from G8 countries with African partners and convene an international conference on Open Data for Agriculture, to develop options for the establishment of a global platform to make reliable agricultural and related information available to African farmers, researchers and policymakers, taking into account existing agricultural data systems.”
It seems information is on everyone’s minds. Making sure that information is accurate, reliable, useful and at our fingertips is an on-going challenge but one with substantial support.