Precision geospatial analysis highlights development gaps – now we need precision solutions

Two new studies published in the journal Nature map recent progress made on improving child health and education across Africa at a level of detail that provides a powerful new tool for improving development outcomes in Africa. The studies find that many areas—particularly around major cities—have made tremendous progress in improving both child health and educational outcomes. But the study also highlights stark inequalities across the continent, and the findings show no single country is likely to completely end childhood malnutrition within its borders by the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) deadline of 2030.

As former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan writes in a Nature commentary piece accompanying the release of these studies: “Such fine-grained insight brings tremendous responsibility to act. It shows governments, international agencies and donors exactly where to direct resources and support.”

Maps from a study in Nature show the prevalence of moderate and severe stunting in Africa in 2010 and 2015 at a granular, 5 x 5 km level. Such mapping capabilities suggest a path to "precision development," the author writes, allowing better targeting of resources to address problems on the local level.

The way the studies drill down to these smaller local levels, deeper than previous efforts, demonstrates how localized problems can persist even within larger areas of progress. Now, we must figure out ways to apply this information to create precise interventions that address these inequalities.

The idea that there can be tremendous spatial variability (as well as variations over time) in development outcomes has been a subject of discussion in the development community for several years now. But almost any level of subnational disaggregation is often deemed too large for precision-focused targeting. Now that the capacity exists to perform the precise level of analysis highlighted in this Nature article, there is a path to begin discussions about what precision public health or precision development might look like.

At the same time, local government boundaries, especially those that signal financial and administrative power, are often well above these smaller geospatial analytic boundaries in many countries. Financial allocations and administrative decisions are made at province or region or district levels in many governments, while these studies map outcomes across the continent in standard 5x5 square kilometer areas. Using this data to consider how to apply it to financing or administrative support decisions is the next task for development practitioners.

As the maps in these studies show, precision public health will be necessary to achieve the global goals to end hunger and poverty by 2030, but the execution of it requires tremendous capability and commitment at local administrative levels.
These studies also show us outcomes, but don’t tell us how the combination of determinants are playing out. We will need more disaggegated data on the coverage of various types of programs, interventions, and services. This would help sharpen both the targeting of actions and the monitoring of changes in coverage and outcomes. Locally-focused diagnostic work is essential in order to accelerate the progress made and reach every last household, mother, and child in ways that reshape the conditions that support better child growth and educational attainment throughout life.

For decades, we have known that investments in nutrition can fuel better educational outcomes later in life, and that the educational attainment of women is crucial not only to their individual health and wellbeing, but also for that of their children and their society. These outcomes are intricately connected, and addressing them together can provide tremendous spillover benefits.

Purnima Menon is a Senior Research Fellow with IFPRI's Poverty, Health and Nutrition Division, based in New Delhi. This blog was originally posted on

International Workshop Highlights Path for India to Reach Development Goals

Launch of 2017 GFPR, India

On Thursday, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), the Trust for Advancement of Agricultural Sciences (TAAS), and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) began a two-day international conference in New Delhi on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through agriculture in India.

While India met several of the Millennium Development Goals – the precursor to the SDGs – much of the country continues to suffer from poverty and food insecurity. More than 300 million people in South Asia live in poverty, with up to 71 percent of them living in India. Improving the country’s agricultural sector presents an opportunity to address both urban and rural development needs.

“To accomplish the Sustainable Development Goals, it is imperative that policy makers support transformations in the region’s food system, and some of the greatest changes to India’s food system are coming from rapid urbanization,” said Dr. Shenggen Fan, Director General of IFPRI. “Connecting farmers to cities can raise incomes in rural areas and help meet urban food and nutrition demand.”

Fan provided a keynote address on the impact of rapid urbanization on development and food security in India, as well as the role agricultural research plays in meeting the SDGs. His address included key findings from IFPRI’s 2017 Global Food Policy Report, an annual analysis of developments in food policy around the developing world, which focuses this year on the impact rapid urbanization is having on health, poverty, and development.

The conference comprised up to 150 participants, including government officials, agricultural scientists, and development agency experts.

Many of the workshop’s discussions also focused on the role of technology in meeting the development goals. Breakout sessions looked at the broad applications of technology in genetic enhancement, natural resource management, and farm mechanization, as well as its role in specific agricultural sectors such as crop production and livestock management.

“Access to technology is already beginning to change the landscape of agriculture” continued Fan. “Take cell phones for example. More than half of farmers who provide food to Delhi are using cell phones to directly negotiate prices for staple crops. Leveraging the power of technology can help connect farmers to markets, optimize agricultural output, and ultimately improve livelihoods.”



Sustainable Development Goals: Strengthening rural-urban linkages is the key for India

Farmer offloading the produce at wholesale market in Lucknow.
Source:(flickr) Pallavi Rajkhowa/IFPRI

Strengthening rural-urban linkages is key to help achieve SDG-2 in India

The world is rapidly urbanising. Currently, more than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas, and by 2050, as much as 66% is projected to be urban, with much of this rise taking place in developing countries. India is no exception: 33% of the population is urban and will rise to 50% by 2050.

What does this mean for the world and India’s food security, nutrition and ability to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?

The International Food Policy Research Institute’s 2017 Global Food Policy Report highlights how rapid urbanisation brings unique challenges to rural and urban areas, and strong linkages between these sectors can help achieve SDG-2 (end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture).

Urbanisation comes with challenges to agriculture and nutrition. Higher urban incomes are associated with a dietary transition to more animal-sourced food, fats and oil, refined grains, and fruits and vegetables, which requires more intensive use of natural resources. Urban lifestyles tend to increase consumption of processed foods and the urban poor are often limited to cheap unhealthy foods. At the same time, as urban population grows, hunger and under-nutrition will also increase in urban areas. In addition to access to healthy and nutritious foods, access to clean water, toilets and sanitation will also be challenges to hunger and malnutrition.

Yet rapid urbanisation brings opportunities, as the rise in urban food demand from rapid urbanisation for increased and diversified food production in rural areas can contribute to improved farmers’ livelihoods. To take advantage of these opportunities, strong rural-urban linkages are needed.

Rural-urban linkages are the physical, economic, social and political connections that link remote areas to large cities through smaller towns and cities in between. Where links are strong, rural farmers can sell larger shares of produce in urban markets, labourers can migrate or commute to nearby towns for seasonal work.

In 2016, the government set a goal to double farmers’ income by 2022 and create a budget that supports the agriculture sector. It is also increasing investment in infrastructure, irrigation, education and training, and healthcare. The National Food Security Act, Mid Day Meal Scheme and Anganwadi Centres contribute to tackling food and nutrition insecurity. Nevertheless, a comprehensive policy to improve agricultural productivity, strengthen value chains, promote diversification and agro-processing, and reduce food loss and waste is necessary to accelerate agricultural growth. Moreover, such a policy is needed to increase farm incomes and spur employment in rural areas, while improving the availability of diverse, healthy, nutritive and safe foods in urban areas. In this regard, policy coordination across rural, peri-urban and urban areas will be critical.

To strengthen value chains of agricultural commodities and improve market efficiency, a provision has been made to develop e-NAM. However, to establish efficient and inclusive rural-urban value chains, institutional arrangements that support the participation of marginal and small farmers who often have little marketable surplus are further needed.

Production in urban and peri-urban areas is shifting towards resource-intensive foods such as vegetables, dairy, meat and poultry to meet the rapidly growing demands. To veer production to rural areas—thereby reducing pressure on increasingly scarce urban and peri-urban lands—rural agri-infrastructure such as cold chains, cold storage and processing facilities is necessary. Leveraging towns and intermediate cities to facilitate economic and social connections between rural and urban areas, and improving rural infrastructure is crucial.

Concerns for food safety and critical civil amenities in the context of rapid urbanisation cannot be overlooked. As food and agricultural markets develop, quality and food safety standards will become increasingly important. Rapid urbanisation without safe drinking water, drainage, housing and hygiene facilities needs to be addressed, especially considering India’s slow decline in under-nutrition.

To end hunger and malnutrition in India and beyond, we must find solutions that consider the historic, ongoing trends of rapid urbanisation. Doing so is key in India, where despite progress 15% are hungry and 39% children are stunted. Improving links between rural and urban areas is a critical start.

Shenggen Fan is Director General and P K Joshi is Director South Asia, IFPRI.
This piece was originally published in The Financial Express.

Conference: Sustainable Development Goals: Preparedness and Role of Indian Agriculture

Call for Abstracts: Sustainable Development Goals: Preparedness and Role of Indian Agriculture

Source: Flickr (IFPRI) Leveled field being irrigated in eastern Uttar Pradesh, India.

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the Trust for Advancement of Agricultural Sciences (TAAS) are jointly organizing a Conference on “Sustainable Development Goals: Preparedness and Role of Indian Agriculture” on 11-12 May 2017 in NASC Complex, New Delhi, India. The main aim of the conference is to prepare a roadmap for Indian agriculture to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDG's) before 2030.

Globally, poverty and hunger are still twin challenges before human civilization despite specific temporal and spatial efforts. Though extreme poverty has been reduced by more than half since 1992, yet more than 1 billion people live on less than $ 1 a day.  To continue the global collective efforts of Millennium Development Goals, countries adopted renewed set of goals to end poverty and protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all as part of new SDGs. There are 17 SDGs and four are directly related to agriculture: “no poverty”, “zero hunger”, “climate action”, and “life on land”.

Agriculture plays an important role for the livelihood of poor especially in rural areas. However, agriculture sector is currently facing numerous challenges. The question obviously before us is: How can agriculture contribute towards achieving SDGs? What should be the strategy to promote agriculture for achieving SDGs? What lessons other developing countries, especially South Asia, can learn from India or vice-versa?

It is our pleasure to invite you and your colleagues to participate in the conference and contribute abstracts in any of the following topics by 14 April, 2017:

  1. Status of Indicators of SDGs
  • Poverty and hunger
  • Land and water degradation
  • Climate risks
  1. Technologies to Accomplish SDG
  • Genetic enhancement
  • Natural resource management
  • Farm mechanization
  1. Role of Policies and Institutions
  • Backend service system
  • Agricultural marketing and food retailing
  • Agriculture-nutrition linkages
  1. Best Practices in Developing Countries
  • South Asia
  • Southeast Asia
  • Africa

We shall appreciate if you circulate the invitation letter to your colleagues and students for participation and contribution. You can send in 300 words abstract mentioning the topic under which abstract is submitted with complete details of the corresponding author to Vaishali Dassani (

Concept Note - March 22, 2017

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