Advancing Research through Improved Data

Effective food security and agricultural policies hinge on accurate, reliable, up-to-date data and information about a wide range of factors, from the cost of agricultural inputs to average regional rainfall to the local and global market price of staple crops. Such data becomes even more critical when it comes to anticipating and responding to food crises. Since 2010, IFPRI’s Food Security Portal (FSP), supported by the EC, has developed and hosted an expanding suite of datasets and analytic tools to help inform food security monitoring and policymaking. Over the past decade, the information provided by the FSP has led to innovative research and products that policymakers and researchers alike can draw on to better understand the world’s dynamic food security environment.

Data forms the backbone of the FSP. The FSP’s newly upgraded Data Gateway now contains over 12,000 datasets relating to excessive price variability, COVID-19 food price monitoring, media analysis, high-frequency commodity prices, food security indicators, and more.

Price data has become one of the platform’s most widely used resources, and the FSP’s datasets and data analytics are helping to advance price research in several ways. The Excessive Food Price Variability Early Warning Tool, created in response to the excessive price volatility that marked the 2008 food price crisis, has provided an innovative look at daily movements in staple food prices since 2011. The commodities covered by this tool, as well as by the FSP’s commodity price tracker, were recently expanded to cover sugar, cocoa, and coffee in addition to wheat, maize, soybeans, and rice. The inclusion of these additional commodities in both tools paints a more comprehensive picture of the daily evolution of both price levels and price volatility over time. Researchers can also use these datasets to examine potential co-movements in prices across multiple markets, giving them a better understanding of how commodity markets interact and how policies can be built to account for multiple markets.

In a broader sense, the data provided through the FSP can help increase and encourage market transparency, according to IFPRI Senior Research Fellows David Laborde and Manuel Hernandez. Providing accurate, timely price information to both public and private stakeholders can help prevent and limit the establishment of harmful food security policies, such as export restrictions. In addition, open data expands collaboration among research institutions. For example, the International Coffee Organization (ICO) partnered with IFPRI in 2020 on research regarding coffee price volatility; this research drew heavily on the price volatility data produced by the FSP.

The FSP’s organization of data from multiple sources at the resource level makes it easy for users to pull data from different sources and quickly build simple, user-friendly products. The FSP Data Gateway also clearly documents units measured and data sources and allows this information to be pulled directly into downloaded data; this can help simplify the development of new tools and resources based on the data by making the code behind new resources more agnostic and reuseable. These benefits in the FSP’s data structure itself have proven useful for external users. Researchers from NASA’s Harvest project query global commodity prices directly from the FSP API for use in web apps, dashboards, and data visualizations. The Harvest project has also developed the NASA Harvest Portal and Data Catalog to be able to easily share data between both portals.

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, policymakers and researchers have been desperate for accurate, up-to-date information to help them gauge how the public health crisis may be impacting food prices and food security. The FSP’s COVID-19 dashboard features a dynamic map depicting the impact of the pandemic’s spread on poverty outcomes, as well as a tracker monitoring the extent and impacts of countries’ food export restrictions in response to the pandemic. The dashboard also features an innovative food price tracker monitoring changes in food prices in response to COVID-19 in India, Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi, with plans to expand the tool into additional countries. This local data can help advance researchers’ understanding of international-domestic price relationships in agricultural and food markets. Finally, the platform provides a comprehensive list of additional COVID-19 resources, news, and tools from CGIAR, the European Union (EU), the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Bank, and more.

By providing a range of tools, data, and information in one central location, the FSP COVID-19 dashboard makes it easy for policymakers, researchers, and development practitioners to glean relevant information quickly. In fact, researchers at NASA’s Harvest project have used the design and data behind the FSP’s COVID-19 dashboard to develop their own COVID-19 Rapid Response dashboard.

In the 10 years since its launch, the Food Security Portal has become a relied-upon source for reliable data and innovative research. On November 24, an IFPRI Policy Seminar will highlight recent upgrades to the FSP, including expansions to its price data and analytics and the establishment of a hub for early warning and food crisis risk monitoring. These advances will continue to put the FSP at the forefront of food security research and policymaking.