Interactive website shows production of 42 crops at ten kilometer resolution.

Knowing where in the world individual crops are cultivated, their production patterns, and whether they are irrigated or rain fed are essential components for ensuring adequate, sustainable food production and safeguarding food security.

Yet these critical data are often inadequate or non-existent, leaving policymakers unable to formulate the best policies to help farmers improve yields, access subsidized fertilizers, and get their products to markets.

A newly updated interactive website seeks to help solve this problem by providing spatially disaggregated crop production estimates for 42 crops around the globe. Developed by HarvestChoice, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), the newly updated website, called Spatial Production Allocation Model (SPAM) at www.mapspam.info, pinpoints the production of crops—such as rice, cassava, potatoes, wheat and maize—down to the pixel level at a resolution of five minutes (about ten kilometers at Earth's Equator). First launched in 2008 using data from 2000, the website has been updated with new data from 2005, is more interactive, and includes a map gallery and data center.

The result is highly-accurate global data that can aid policymakers seeking to ensure that local food production is optimized to meet demand, that farmers get the highest possible yields, and that food is grown sustainably. The maps can be overlaid with other geospatial datasets to help with mulitple aspects of food security, such as crop productivity, climate change, ecosystem services, and social welfare.

 “Even with the latest remote sensing technologies, identifying different types of crops cultivated on the ground is still a very challenging task,” said Liangzhi You, a Senior Research Fellow at IFPRI, who led the methodology and modeling that produced the data.

The new website includes maps that were produced using satellite images and then fine-tuned by a global crop mapping community on the ground. The work included collaboration with other CGIAR centers and local partners.

“The most labor intensive and investigative work is the acquisition of sub-national crop statistics which are accurate and consistent,” said Ulrike Wood-Sichra, an IFPRI team member, who feeds and runs the model.

Researchers at IFPRI and IIASA said they expected to be able to produce even more detailed maps in the future by relying on better data and technology. 

"It is likely that we will drastically improve such maps in the near future using imagery with higher spatial and temporal resolution as well as a richer in-situ database from information on the ground using mobile devices and local knowledge,” said Steffen Fritz, a research at IIASA, who contributes the cropland mapping for SPAM. 


HarvestChoice, 2015. "New Global Crop Data Aid in Food Policy Decisions." International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, DC., and University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN. Available online at http://harvestchoice.org/node/9983.

Apr 15, 2015