Mapping African Agriculture

A wealth of data comes online

Data of all kinds are notoriously scarce for Sub-Saharan Africa, and geospatial data—that is, maps—on agriculture, poverty, and the environment are no exception. The IFPRI researchers in HarvestChoice, a joint program with the University of Minnesota, have therefore been busy generating new spatial data, harmonizing them with data compiled from a range of other sources, and making the entire collection available at a single website (, along with tools for exploring the information in creative ways.

In addition to being scarce, data to support agricultural policy and investment decisions in Sub-Saharan Africa have typically been too “coarse”—available only on a national or regional scale. “But there’s actually lots of variation within countries in terms of the environment, farming practices, and market opportunities,” says Stanley Wood, the leader of the HarvestChoice team at IFPRI. Rainfall, soil fertility, and access to infrastructure, for example, may be quite different for communities separated by just a few kilometers. “At a finer scale,” he says, “you pick up more of the real-world variability that farmers and would-be service providers face.”

To better reveal the spatial distribution and patterns of farming in Sub-Saharan Africa, HarvestChoice created MAPPR, a tool for interacting with the core collection of detailed, high-resolution maps covering all aspects of agricultural production. MAPPR divides the continent into 10-kilometer by 10-kilometer squares, allowing users to home in on any one of 300,000 squares or to summarize indicator values for all squares in a specified watershed, agroecological zone, or market area. There are currently map layers for more than 100 indicators, including population density, poverty, rainfall, crop harvested areas, and travel time to market. MAPPR allows users to combine indicators from multiple layers to produce customized maps, charts, and tables.

Screen shot of HarvestChoice Mappr tool - links to HarvestPlus website

HarvestChoice’s MAPPR tool can present many layers of data at once. The map shows five agroecological zones of Sub-Saharan Africa and areas of high and low population density within them. The graph shows total maize production in those areas. Production is highest in areas with low population density. Source: HarvestChoice MAPPR

Using MAPPR, a policymaker can identify regions of a country with high concentrations of both poverty and cropland, or an investor thinking about building a food-processing plant can search for locations that combine production of sufficient quantities of a particular crop with good access to markets.

Besides maps and mapping tools, the HarvestChoice website provides datasets, working papers, presentations, and spatial and economic models—all at no cost. “We’ve built a hub of data and compatible tools,” says Wood, “so that practitioners everywhere can leverage our resources to better inform their own policy and investment priority setting and decisionmaking.”

In This Issue


Farmers Power Up

A vibrant market in farm machinery services is emerging in Africa.


Smart Money?

Many African governments subsidize fertilizer for farmers. Are the subsidies worth it?


Lightening the Double Burden

Obesity and undernutrition increasingly appear among members of the same household. Is there a way to prevent this "double burden" of malnutrition?


The Family Business

Most farms are family farms. Should we be helping small family farmers to stay in agriculture, or to move up and out?