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

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Into the Spotlight

The grain teff has been consumed as a staple in Ethiopia for centuries but is little known outside the country. Now, researchers are training their attention on this understudied crop.

Untangling the Asian Enigma

Although South Asia has the highest concentration of undernutrition in the world, in the past two decades Bangladesh and Nepal have both achieved striking improvements in the nutrition of their citizens. How did they do it?

Does Money Talk?

FEATURE: Millions of poor people around the world are enrolled in safety net programs that hand out cash or food. What’s the best way to design these transfer programs?


  1. [...] for their cassava processing plant in Tanzania, and ended up expressing some reservations about the advertised ability of HarvestChoice’s MAPPR online mapping tool to help us out with that tricky task. We thus [...]