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News Story
2 November 2023
Author: Marta Anguera

How can data and analysis improve food security and nutrition?

Panel at the Food Systems for the 21st century: How data-driven analysis, and multi-stakeholder collaboration contribute to policy decision-making and investments, 24 October, 2023. Photo by Madeleine Fogde.

At the 51st Plenary Session of the Committee on World Food Security, a side event was organised by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the Swedish government, the European Union, and SIANI. The event, moderated by Mohamed Manssouri, director of the FAO Investment Centre, discussed the importance of data analysis and multi-stakeholder processes in making policy and investment decisions.

Opening the session, Dan Ericsson, State Secretary to the Minister for Rural Affairs and Chair of the Swedish FAO Committee, expressed his satisfaction on behalf of Sweden for the endorsement of the Policy Recommendations on Strengthening Collection and Use of FSN Data and Related Analysis Tools to improve decision-making in support of the progressive realisation of the right to adequate food in the context of national food security. Dan Ericsson believed it will have added value to strengthen food policies and, inform investments, and encourages the uptake and implementation of the policy recommendations.

“Well-informed evidence-based policy formulation not only enables better results for food security and nutrition, it can also increase confidence and trust in decision-making. Better and driven analysis are key”.

On the same line, Annette Schneegans Head of UN Section, Deputy Permanent Representative to FAO, Minister Counsellor , European Union, celebrated the adoption but emphasising that data standardisation and integration of different information systems are necessary for effective data utilisation. The complexity of agrifood systems requires new approaches to data collection, processing, and analysis that can be accessible to all stakeholders. While many projects are producing valuable data, ensuring its availability for the long term is crucial.

The event showcased innovative examples from Sweden, provided by Frida Sporre, Swedish Board of Agriculture, on how data and analysis can make food security and nutrition more accessible and transparent to practitioners, decision-makers, and consumers. It also explored the mechanisms linking analysis to decision-making processes and the political economy that underpins action.

With Meeta Punjabi Mehta, Senior Food Systems Officer at the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (FAO RAP), we delved into some insights from crosscutting regional analyses of 50-country EU-FAO-CIRAD food systems’ assessments. It stood out a research study named “Food Systems at Risk“, which identified the challenges that threaten the sustainability of global food systems. A methodology was developed to evaluate the performance of food systems implemented in 50 countries.

“We cannot change what we cannot measure and assess”.

After assessing 50 countries, a comprehensive database was compiled summarising the key issues. Four regional briefs were prepared for West Africa, Southern and Eastern Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. The FAO Senior Food Systems Officer explained that the reports provide an overview of the food systems in each region, highlighting some regional food system dynamics. Additionally, an analysis was conducted on the trade-offs or costs of continuing with business as usual, which helped to identify potential transition pathways.

Afterwards, Vivian Ribeiro, Senior Data Scientist, Stockholm Environment Institute, introduced the concept of data democratisation, emphasising the importance of not only making data transparent but also easily accessible.

“The principles of data democratisation are not set in stone, and different ways of defining them exist.”

However, they all converge on the same aspect: the need for transparency, building a collaborative way, and developing data literacy among people. The key is to make data accessible and efficient, from using technology to going into the field.

Ribeiro showcased the “Do Pasto ao Prato” app, a product of the TRASE initiative intended for the domestic market in Brazil, focusing on offering transparency to supply chains of commodities globally, especially those associated with 70% deforestation in tropical environments. During the presentation, Ribeiro shared her lessons learned: Firstly, she highlighted the importance of the data pipeline and the connection between tools, which is more critical than the tools themselves. Secondly, the importance of data accessibility and the language used, which should be more communicable and clearer to engage users. Finally, Ribeiro stressed the need for stakeholder engagement and considering transparency, lean development, and cultural barriers for sustainability. Polarisation and cultural challenges might arise, but it’s worth engaging with users to learn and put the information to the service of society.

Moving to the panel discussion, the focus was on the importance of analytical work and assessment in the agrifood systems. The use of data in policy dialogues was also discussed, highlighting the role of data science in designing effective public policies.

From the point of view of academia, Maria Fernanda Mideros, Director of Agri-food Systems Research Center, Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá, Colombia, explained how regional initiatives can promote inclusive development and should be integrated into national public policies. For example, she cited the PlaSa Colombia, a key tool to improve the understanding of the food system, which promotes collaboration and inclusiveness among various stakeholders. Another initiative, the Antioquia supply system, supported by FAO, facilitates regional trade, empowering small farmers for fair and inclusive development. According to Mrs. Fernanda Mideros, these initiatives aim to democratize and translate complex data. However, challenges remain in defining indicators for active decision-making and ensuring coordination between science, political dialogue, and data. Investment in infrastructure and active participation from stakeholders are crucial.

During a presentation by Dr Abdoulaye Mohamadou, Executive Secretary, Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS) presented their work on using data to support decision-making in the fight against desertification and soil degradation in the Sahel region and to ensure food security in the area.

CILSS collects vulnerability data through its “Harmonized Framework” a federated tool to help countries prepare for food insecurity risks. The collected data is used to draft national response plans for addressing food insecurity, droughts, or floods. In this sense, harmonising this data is crucial for policy advice and decision-making in the region.CFS52 side event-data

The challenges facing sustainable food systems on a global level are more evident now than ever before. In response, Nick Jacobs, Agri-food, Trade and Development Policy, IPES Food, emphasizes the need for a science-policy interface that uses scientific evidence to create effective policies. This approach considers the entire food chain and all decision-makers involved, rather than analysing production, supply chains and retail in isolation. The objective is to identify cross-cutting trends that can inform decision-making on food systems, promoting a more sustainable and equitable food system through informed analysis and actionable insights.

Overall, side event evidenced that to identify policy options, a robust and accessible foundation of data and analysis is essential. This involves collaboration between all stakeholders. Moreover, a political economy approach, is necessary to cultivate the political will and ownership required to implement policies and investments. Therefore, data analysis, good knowledge, and expertise are critical in investing, whether it be public or private. This is especially important in developing countries where capacity and tools are needed to support evidence-based investments.

Event recording