An unprecedented drive to collect data from millions of smallholder farmers in 50 developing countries was launched on Monday.
The “50 x 2030” programme seeks to boost agricultural productivity and livelihoods across Africa, Asia and Latin America by 2030 – and provide more accurate data to inform policy-makers.
The initiative, announced at the Data to End Hunger event at the UN General Assembly, comes in the wake of figures which show that global hunger has risen for the third consecutive year, with 821 million people undernourished in 2017.
“Data is foundational for so many of the things we want to achieve, and yet because it’s this hidden, not very glamorous, infrastructure it’s hard to get people to care about it,” Claire Melamed, chief executive of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, told The Telegraph.
“Our aim is to invest in basic data over a long period, which can give governments the information that they need to really make progress on agricultural productivity. This is not a one-off, big bang collection of data, it’s about creating a better system.”
Currently, key information – such as the crops farmers and planting and harvesting, or their ability to access adequate financing – is missing in developing countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, just two of 44 countries are deemed to have high-quality agricultural data.
The initiative will see two well-established surveys – the World Bank’s Integrated Surveys on Agriculture (ISA), and the AGRISurvey from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) – rolled out on a wider scale to fill knowledge gaps.
“It’s not about inventing new stuff”, said Ms Melamed. “We already know these surveys work – they’ve been used for a long time, and honed over many years. It’s about investing so that they can be scaled up and repeated regularly.”
Recent efforts to improve data collection have demonstrated the power of information. In Ghana, a statistician’s analysis of property data in one district allowed the local government to properly apply property tax, and increased income by 500 per cent.
In East Africa, a detailed survey in 2014 revealed that – despite ample grazing land and growing demand – food production was limited by a lack of veterinary, breeding, and other basic livestock services. Following government intervention, agricultural production increased.
“We’re witnessing today a fundamental transformation of food systems in developing countries,” said Laura Tuck, vice president for Sustainable Development at the World Bank.
“By making agricultural data more readily available in 50 low income countries, we can help accelerate this transformation, to boost sustainable food production and allow farmers to thrive.”
While donors, including the United States Agency for International Development and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, will contribute to the initial data collection efforts, the 50 participating countries will co-finance the programme in the long term.
“This initiative is something both donors and governments want, and there is the urgency to do something about it now,” said Ms Melamed. “Hopefully it won’t end in 2030. The governments are the ones collecting the data, it will feed immediately into their work, and build capacity in their statistical offices.
“The very poorest people need to be in the data so they can get the help they need.”