Creative Math for Data Lovers and Food Security Enthusiasts
See if you can solve this riddle (without Google):
When does 50 x 2030 = stronger data systems and less hunger?
If you’ve been tuned into conversations on achieving the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 — zero hunger — groundbreaking partner coordination or data revolutions in development, you may be able to solve this one.
When 50 countries and nine development partners come together to close agricultural and rural data gaps and achieve improved evidence-based decision-making in agriculture and food security by 2030 — also known as the 50x2030 Initiative. The Initiative aims to empower 50 low- and lower-middle-income countries (L/LMICs) to build stronger national data systems through agricultural and rural survey programs.
According to latest estimates, businesses, governments and development organizations invest around $264 billion a year in agriculture in L/LMICs but often without accurate data to guide their decisions. The lack and limited use of data lead to suboptimal decisions, causing losses in productivity and agricultural income and, ultimately, more hunger and poverty.
SDG2 served as a rallying cry to address this problem and join the strategic vision and resources of six development donors[i] with the technical and operational capabilities of key multilateral implementers — the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Bank — and the determination of committed partner countries to strengthen data systems. The Initiative directly and sustainably addresses the need for more evidence-based decision-making in agriculture by strengthening national data systems in the countries that need data most.
The Initiative builds upon the experiences of FAO’s AGRISurvey Programme and the World Bank’s Living Standards Measurement Study-Integrated Surveys on Agriculture to help countries develop the survey programs they need. Officials from the National Statistical Offices (NSO) and ministries of agriculture (MoA) design a national survey program based on their data needs, capacity and potential for financial takeover. Participating countries can integrate farm-based agricultural and household-based rural survey modules in various ways to get the data they need, when they need it. The Initiative’s guide on questionnaire design explains how its integrated approach produces more data with fewer resources while maximizing data interoperability and utility. FAO’s Statistics Division leads 50x2030 work on data production.
Data production support is complemented by new efforts to promote the use of 50x2030 data, led by IFAD’s Research and Impact Assessment Division. Recognizing that supply-side efforts on data production alone will not improve the use of evidence, the Initiative is unique in its emphasis on ensuring data are actually used. IFAD’s role in promoting the use of the 50x2030 data is strategically aligned with its focus on policy engagement and building evidence to promote sustainable rural transformation.
The Initiative is targeting a sustainable solution by identifying and addressing the root causes of why data aren’t being used. In its guide to promoting data use, 50x2030 outlines its new conceptual framework of seven enabling factors for data use: demand, expertise, availability, access, awareness, utility and trust. For data to be used, those seven factors must be present within a country’s data ecosystem — defined as the stakeholders who engage with data, the data assets (data sets, platforms, etc.) with which they engage and the rules and structures governing their engagement. The framework is used to examine, prioritize and address the binding constraints within a country’s ecosystem. Data use activities include a combination of technical assistance, training and workshops to address identified constraints.
The World Bank’s Center for Development Data (C4D2) leads 50x2030 work on methodological research to produce more efficient and cost-effective survey tools. Current key research areas include the integration of survey data with geospatial and administrative data and the development of a national-level survey-based tool for measuring women’s empowerment (building on Feed the Future’s work on the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index).
While the Initiative is exciting for its broad scope, unique coordination and technical novelties, its greatest asset is its country-owned approach. Country demand and leadership are prerequisites for country participation. The partner government is in the driver’s seat from the start, with NSOs and MoAs leading program design and implementation with technical support from FAO, IFAD and the World Bank. Moreover, partner countries contribute resources from the start and increase their contributions each year, aiming to take full financial and technical responsibility for the survey programs in five to eight years.
While it will take a decade to prove our creative math is right, the Initiative represents impressive collaboration and encouraging progress to overcome a major obstacle to achieve SDG2. Ultimately, 50x2030 is not simply a data initiative but a transformative endeavor to reshape how decisions are made in agriculture and food systems across the developing world.
[i] USAID, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the European Union, Germany’s Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Italy’s Agency for Development Cooperation.