Tackling Weaknesses in Agricultural Statistics in Africa: the LSMS-ISA Project

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  • Despite critical links between agriculture and the MDGs, agricultural statistics remain weak
  • World Bank, Gates Foundation now collaborating to improve household surveys in Sub-Saharan Africa
  • Plan includes active dissemination of results and open access to data

November 23, 2009—The World Bank's World Development Report 2008 highlighted the key role of agriculture in meeting the 2015 targets laid out by the Millennium Development Goals. Soon after the report was published in late 2007, the global food crisis sharply underlined the need for sound agricultural policy and stronger agricultural information systems.

The World Bank and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are working together on a new initiative aimed at improving agricultural data in Sub-Saharan Africa. At the heart of this project is engagement with government counterparts in both line ministries and national statistical offices to design and implement panel household surveys emphasizing agriculture.

The Living Standards Measurement Study-Integrated Surveys on Agriculture, or LSMS-ISA as it is known, will therefore serve as a mechanism to increase statistical capacity in partner countries, in addition to the benefits from knowledge generation.

The panel surveys, based on the LSMS survey model, focus on gathering detailed information on rural livelihoods, collecting extensive information on agriculture, non-farm employment, poverty, food security, and nutrition, among other areas. The data will allow disaggregation by gender—of particular concern in agriculture.

The Gates Foundation is supporting this work through a grant of $19 million. This will support, among other activities, at least two rounds of nationally representative household surveys in each of six countries, covering approximately 25,000 households.

"The data being generated by the LSMS-ISA project will have innumerable applications in national and international policy making in the fight against poverty," said Martin Ravallion, Director of the World Bank's Development Research Group. "High-quality household data are crucial to improving our understanding of poverty and the role of agriculture in the livelihoods of the rural poor. But agriculture does not exist in a vaccum, which is why these surveys cut across sectors and will provide a holistic picture of rural incomes."

"Our ability to prioritize and target agricultural investments is extremely limited given the current state of agricultural statistics in Sub-Saharan Africa", said Prabhu Pingali, Deputy Director of Agriculture Development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "The LSMS-ISA project has the potential to transform our understanding of agriculture development in Africa, while empowering African governments to make better decisions on behalf of the rural poor".

Methodological validation and research

Besides supporting the production of high-quality household-level data, the project emphasizes the validation of measures and indicators and promotes research in data collection methods.

Some of the areas being considered include improved methods for quantification of agricultural production (particularly for difficult-to-measure crops such as tubers and vegetables); measurement of agriculture and non-farm self-employment income; and for understanding how farmers are adapting to and mitigating the effects of climate change.

Additionally, the new surveys plan to employ state-of-the art techniques and methods, including GIS technologies and the use of Computer Assisted Personal Interviews (CAPI) to provide more accurate estimates and reduce the time lag between data collection and dissemination.

Multiple partnerships with other international organizations such as the Food and Agricultural Organization, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the World Fish Center, and the World Food Programme have been established to support this work and create valuable synergies. Several donors are also supporting both the surveys and the methodological research.

From country to country

Work is now underway in six countries. In Tanzania, the project is partnering with the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and other donors to enhance and expand the National Panel Survey. The first year of data has been collected from a sample of 3,200 households, with plot measurements being collected using GPS on a sub-sample of the plots surveyed.

In Uganda, we are partnering with the Uganda Bureau of Statistics and other donors, to increase the scope of agricultural data, among other topics, in the Uganda National Panel Survey. Field work began in September 2009 and will take 12 months, visiting a sample of more than 3,300 households.

The team is currently working with the governments in four additional countries—Niger, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Malawi—to develop full programs.

When the data come home

The first wave of baseline data is expected to be produced between 2010 and 2011, with second waves becoming available in 2012-2014. In some countries where the surveys are annual, subsequent waves may be available sooner.

"Data from these surveys will be disseminated widely, and will be made publicly available within a year of collection," said Gero Carletto, manager of the LSMS-ISA project, and senior economist in the Development Research Group. "We are already looking ahead to consider outlets and cement partnerships for research and analytical capacity building based on the data being collected, and we are keen to share both successes and failures that emerge from our experiences."

The team

The LSMS-ISA is part of the Living Standards Measurement Study in the World Bank's Development Economics Research Group. The team is comprised of Kathleen Beegle, Calogero (Gero) Carletto, Kristen Himelein, Talip Kilic, Gbemisola (Mimi) Oseni, Kinnon Scott (LSMS manager) and Diane Steele. Questions can be addressed to