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Integrated info system for food security

Alexander Müller
Assistant Director General
Food & Agriculture Organization
of the UN, Italy
[email protected]

The responsible management of natural resources is the key to attaining sustainable agricultural and rural development.

Availability of reliable and timely geospatial information on environmental conditions and their changes is one of the prerequisites of sustainable development, management of land and water resources and protection of the environment. Land use policy-makers and rural development planners need such information to ensure food security for increasing population, supply of fresh water, creation of work opportunities in rural areas and conservation of land and water resources.

These tasks are particularly challenging in developing countries in the arid and semi-arid climatic zones because of the increasing impact of climate change damaging land and water ecosystems and reducing their production potential. Yet, the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), in particular the reduction of poverty and hunger, improvement of health conditions among population of developing countries and attainment of environmental sustainability depends on timely execution of these tasks. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), as part of its mandate, is conducting global assessment and monitoring of agricultural land, forest and fisheries resources, and assisting developing countries with their sustainable development and management. In order to fulfill these tasks, FAO has been involved in provision of geospatial data, information and services to its field projects and headquarters programmes since its establishment. Appropriate geo-referenced information on physical and socio-economic resources for agriculture in the broadest sense, including forestry and fisheries is of substantial value in the analysis of economic feasibility and environmental acceptability of agricultural, rural development and food security programmes.

Over the last few years, FAO has established geo-referenced databases on land cover, global land and water resources, on worldwide forest resources and has created a global fisheries information system and initiated work on global inventories of livestock production systems and the mapping of farming/livelihood systems. FAO maintains numerous statistical databases for the food and agriculture sector that are built up from data provided by national statistical services; a number of these are now being geo-referenced for use in spatial analysis.

In 1992, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) adopted the Agenda 21, an action plan for sustainable development. It charted a new approach based on the premise that economic growth has to be supported by strategies for global conservation of land and water resources and environmental protection to be sustainable. To reach this goal, it recommended employment of new geospatial technologies, satellite remote sensing, GIS and GPS for comprehensive assessment of environmental conditions and monitoring their dynamics worldwide.

The Environment, Climate Change and Bioenergy Division of the Natural Resources Management and Environment Department at FAO have particular attention focussed upon the role of rural institutions in addressing local development issues. The division provides assistance to its member countries both in the mitigation of climate change and in the development of adaptive capacities of agriculture, fisheries and forestry to the effects of climate change, contributing to sustainable agriculture management. This assistance is provided through a variety of approaches, including technical support, policy tools, institutional strengthening, guidelines and best practices. FAO has established the Environmental Assessment and Management Unit (NRCE) that provides efficient and effective platform for generation of timely and reliable geospatial information at global, regional and country levels to support the implementation of the UN MDGs, UNCED Agenda 21, WSSD Plan of Implementation, international environmental conventions, and its programmes, projects and other activities. NRCE provides training and advisory services on the effective application of advanced geospatial technologies. It includes

organisation of workshops for decisionmakers, training courses for technical staff in developing countries and implementation of pilot projects. Its operational mode is based on a holistic approach, integrating geospatial data with socio-economic and climatic data, their joint analysis and modeling. Its activities are structured into five major programme elements, focussed to provide geospatial support for the following initiatives:

• Preparedness for and adaptation to impacts of climate change;
• Food security forecasting;
• Mitigation of natural disasters;
• Protection of environmental quality and biodiversity;
• Capacity building for the effective application of geospatial data in developing countries;
• Coordination of FAO geospatial activities.


A case study from one of the FAO’s projects in Burkina Faso below indicates the type of assistance, tools and outputs delivered, and the benefits to the country itself by using advanced geospatial technology to capture, manage, analyse and report on sustainable agriculture development, efficient use of natural resources and assist on drafting national policy using decision support tools and products.


In Burkina Faso, food security is at the heart of economic and social development priorities. Although the country has been making efforts for many years to stop hunger and malnutrition, food insecurity is still present.
Food insecurity is related to numerous environmental and socioeconomic factors like climate, soil fertility, scarcity of water resources, degradation of natural resources, lack of infrastructures, lacking of information management and need for capacity building. Improving information management is considered a fundamental step to reach the objectives of the Food Security National Strategy. The strategy has been formulated by the government of Burkina Faso to improve food security and reduce inequalities and poverty in a sustainable way.
Within this framework, the design and implementation of the “Plan d’Action du Système d’Information sur la Sécurité Alimentaire’’(PA-SISA) was put into place.

FAO is assisting the government of Burkina Faso in building its capacity to develop and make use of information for action in the field of food security. The programme "EC/FAO Food Security Programme, Phase II" was designed to help the government of Burkina Faso in building its capacity to develop and make use of information for action in the field of food security.


The main objectives of the programme are to improve the quality and relevance of the information and analysis, aiming at taking more appropriate, opportune and sustainable measures, and to strengthen national institutional capacity to deliver useful and easyto- use information on food security and poverty to targeted users.
The following four target areas had been identified for the programme in September 2005 by FAO, with the collaboration of the national partner institutions and the EU delegation in Burkina Faso:

• Technical assistance to the national institutions in view of the adaptation and use of food security and nutrition monitoring instruments, and their integration to the national IMS (Information Management System)
• National institutions' capacity strengthening in the analysis of food consumption data drawn from field surveys data and statistics
• Assistance in national capacity building for information products delivery in the field of food security, with a high impact on action
• Assistance in the management and use of spatial and non spatial information related to food security in view of the development and constant use of a digital food security dynamic atlas.
The objective of the atlas is to feed the decision making process in the field of food security with reliable and timely information, derived from synergy building between the various isolated systems in the country and exchange of data among themselves.
This information system will be deployed to provide targeted users with spatial and descriptive information and data derived from or collected during the implementation of the project.


A set of tools and technologies developed or commonly used by FAO is adopted, like Dynamic Atlas for spatial and tabular data integration and display, Microsoft Access and MySQL databases for data archiving, Web technologies for website development and remote database connection and management. These set of tools and technologies make the structure of the Information Management (IM) system, whose architecture was designed to provide an efficient dissemination of geographical information and geospatial analysis on food security subjects.

The Information Management (IM) system is based on three main modules:
• the Dynamic Atlas suite,
• a Geographic Information System, and
• the GeoNetwork Opensource platform.

The Dynamic Atlas suite, a technology developed by FAO, is made of three different modules, all integrated among themselves and designed to build the atlas and make it available to local stakeholders. Dynamic Atlas is an information management and publishing suite of tools that enable the integration of spatial (map), tabular (spreadsheet) and unstructured

"Dynamic Atlas is an information management and publishing suite of tools that enable the integration of spatial (map), tabular (spreadsheet) and unstructured (document) data and metadata"

(document) data and metadata. The software allows organisation and publication of information in a way that makes it easy for anyone to access and use. The Dynamic Atlas desktop module is very user friendly and allows all stakeholders to access and use the data and information provided.

This module is designed to organise and bring together all the geospatial data into an “atlas-like” built structure with topics, layers, related information data and links to external sources. GISderived maps, tabular data and other related documents and imagery from international and national sources are integrated into a “warehouse” using FAO’s Dynamic Atlas technology.

The main components of Dynamic Atlas are:

• Dynamic Maps: is the GIS viewer of atlases.
• Dynamic Knowledge base: provides the ability to quickly and easily set up and manage atlases.
• Dynamic Publisher: enables atlases and Dynamic Maps to be packaged for broad dissemination on CD/DVD.
• Dynamic Web Maps Server: enables publishing of atlases over the Internet.
The Digital Food Security Atlas of Burkina Faso is a digital database of indicators related to food security in Burkina Faso. The atlas can be browsed on the desktop using Dynamic Maps, the GIS viewer of Dynamic Atlas, or through the Web using the online mapping system.
The main topics addressed in the atlas are:
1. Geographic context
2. Food security indicators
• Food consumption status
• Health status
• Nutritional status
• Demographic conditions
• Environmental conditions
• Economic conditions
• Political conditions
• Socio-cultural conditions
• Risks, hazards, shocks
• Food availability
• Food access
• Stability of food supplies & access
• Household characteristics
• Health and sanitation
• Care and feeding practices

The tools for the dissemination of information are provided by the Dynamic Atlas suite for data publishing (desktop based web-mapping system, geospatial data publisher) and by the GeoNetwork platform for metadata catalogue.
The desktop based web-mapping system and the geospatial data publisher are considered the second and the third module of the Dynamic Atlas suite and are the tools needed to make public the atlas generated by the Dynamic Atlas desktop first module.

A commercial GIS, the backbone of the system, is used for processing, analysing and storing food security data and indicators. The GeoNetwork Opensource platform is the key element for data management, metadata editing and data sharing. A key factor for the success of the IM system is its sustainability at local level.
For this reason, two training session have been conducted in Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), to impart basic skills in the experts to run Dynamic Atlas suite and GeoNetwork metadata catalogue.


The following outputs are expected from the implementation of the project:
• Database of relevant data layers related to natural resources and indicators of food security
• Desktop-based (CD-ROM/DVDROM) digital Food Security Atlas of Burkina Faso
• Web-based digital maps and dissemination mechanism for spatially-related data and information
• Strengthened local capacity to manage geospatial information
• Documented procedures, user manuals and
• Harmonised and consistent reporting