Photo credit: Neil Palmer/CIAT

When you think about popular agricultural datasets for development, a number of big players probably come to mind: FAOSTAT, World Bank, USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, and the Global Agriculture Information Network (GAIN), to name a few. As the community of international development evolves to integrate more online sources to inform an offline world for economic and social growth, however, a number of data products are increasingly flooding the market.

With so many products that promise to simplify data management, collection, visualization, and analysis, it can be hard to choose what works for your organization. At the recent ICTforAg Conference, Michael Shoag of Forum One simplifies the decision by presenting a list of existing applications during the “What Works for Ag Data: Apps, Tools, and Visualizations” session. These include openly-accessible datasets that are primed to jumpstart data analysis or enhance your organization’s existing data. Among Shoag’s 9 datasets to improve your ICTforAg programs are the usual suspects plus at least one (relatively) new kid on the block: HarvestChoice Mappr.

The core of HarvestChoice’s data holdings, referred to as CELL5M, brings together biophysical and socio-economic indicators in harmony at pixel scale (10 kilometers x 10 kilometers) for sub-Saharan Africa. Users can choose from and overlay over 750 data layers and aggregate indicators according to development domains without regard to country or administrative boundaries.

HarvestChoice Mappr is a web-based interface that allows users with various levels of technical expertise to tap into CELL5M. Users can manipulate indicators and create tables, charts, or maps for their own analysis. An application program interface (API) is also available for more advanced users.

Also at the conference, Matthew Cooper of Conservation International presented the Resilience Atlas as a demonstration of the coupling between ICTs and data. The format is similar to Mappr but with different objectives. According to the organization, the Resilience Atlas is “designed to improve understanding of the extent and severity of stresses and disasters that affect rural livelihoods, food-production systems and ecosystems on multiple scales. Uniquely, it also gauges how changes to local assets — including financial capital, social networks and natural resources — can affect the resilience of these systems.” Covering at least 40 countries in Africa and South and Southeast Asia, the atlas integrates over “60 of the best available datasets”. Among the 60 are agricultural production data generated from HarvestChoice’s ever-popular Spatial Production Allocation Model (SPAM).

ICTs have the ability to “create greater access to information and communication in underserved populations,” according to the European Union. It’s a no brainer, therefore, that the coupling of ICTs and so-called big data, like the 9 open-source datasets mentioned by Shoag, are increasingly spotlighted in international development. And when it comes to improving economic and social growth, the spotlight is a good place to be.


HarvestChoice, 2016. "HarvestChoice Datasets and ICTforAg Programs." International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, DC., and University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN. Available online at

Jul 22, 2016