08 April 2015

New global crop data aid in food policy decisions

IIASA cropland maps form the basis of a new interactive web site, which shows production of 42 crops at ten-kilometer resolution.

 Two women collect leafy vegetables in Khulna, Bangladesh, 2014. ©IFPRI/Farha Khan

Two women collect leafy vegetables in Khulna, Bangladesh, 2014. ©IFPRI/Farha Khan

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 this critical data is 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 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 the equator). First launched in 2008 using data from 2000, the website had 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 other aspects of food security as well, 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, who meticulously went through the remote sensing imagery to ensure their accuracy and make changes. The work was done in collaboration with other CGIAR centers and many local collaborators.

“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 contributed the cropland mapping for SPAM.  

This map of sweet potato production is just one of 42 crops for which data are freely available on the MapSPAM Web site. Credit: You, L., U. Wood-Sichra, S. Fritz, Z. Guo, L. See, and J. Koo. 2014. Spatial Production Allocation Model (SPAM) 2005 Version 2.0. 03.10.2015

About IFPRI: The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) seeks sustainable solutions for ending hunger and poverty. IFPRI was established in 1975 to identify and analyze alternative national and international strategies and policies for meeting the food needs of the developing world, with particular emphasis on low-income countries and on the poorer groups in those countries. www.ifpri.org

About IIASA: IIASA is an international scientific institute that conducts research into the critical issues of global environmental, economic, technological, and social change that we face in the twenty-first century. Our findings provide valuable options to policy makers to shape the future of our changing world. IIASA is independent and funded by scientific institutions in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Oceania, and Europe. previous.iiasa.ac.at 

About the Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets: The Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets, is a CGIAR program led by IFPRI that conducts action-oriented research to equip decision-makers with evidence required to develop food and agricultural policies that better serve the interests of poor producers and consumers, both men and women. www.pim.cgiar.org. 

About HarvestChoice: HarvestChoice, led by IFPRI, generates knowledge products to help guide strategic decisions to improve the well-being of the poor in sub-Saharan Africa through more productive and profitable farming. Our evolving list of knowledge products includes maps, datasets, working papers, country briefs, user-oriented tools, and spatial and economic models designed to target the needs of investors, policymakers, and research analysts who are working to improve the food supply of the world’s poor. http://www.harvestchoice.org

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Last edited: 31 January 2018


Steffen Fritz

Program Director and Principal Research Scholar Strategic Initiatives Program

Principal Research Scholar Novel Data Ecosystems for Sustainability Research Group - Advancing Systems Analysis Program


IIASA's Geo-Wiki project harnesses the power of the crowd to aid in mapping land cover worldwide.


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