To this end, IFPRI has launched a new version of its Arab Spatial online data visualisation tool, aimed at helping policy makers and the private sector identify national and regional food security problems, and formulate policies to solve them.
“The three key messages we have are that food insecurity is a major cause of conflict in Arab countries, more so than in the rest of the world. It's not the only cause of conflict, but it is a major cause. And policies and projects that improve food security are also likely to reduce conflict, as an externality,” said Perrihan Al-Riffai, senior research analyst for development strategy and governance at IFPRI.
An IFPRI presentation in Rome last week outlined the conclusions of the research: “The high vulnerability of Arab countries to global food price variations may explain the exceptionally strong link between food insecurity and the risk of conflict. Since countries in political transition are at increased risk of sliding into conflict, improving food security is particularly important for supporting peaceful transitions.”
Improve policy with better data
IFPRI's contribution to solving these problems is the Arab Spatial tool. This online atlas, which is freely accessible online, incorporates more than 200 sets of data to allow users to map and analyse factors relating to food security, including macroeconomic indicators, agricultural data, and information on infrastructure such as ports, airports and road networks.
“You need to look at all the different facets – really, food security is a cross-sectional look at development challenges. It deals with trade; at the national level, do you have the foreign exchange needed to feed your people? The region is the most food-import dependent region in the world; do we have the foreign exchange to be able to provide that food to the people?” said Al-Riffai.
She said the private sector could also make substantial use of Arab Spatial, by using it to analyse opportunities and areas of potential interest in the region.
“Before going in to a certain region, to see whether or not it's viable to have that project in that region, you might want to see how is the road network in that region, what's the accessibility to ports, airports? How about events of conflict – how have they been mapped in those regions? How about agricultural yields? Am I looking in the right region? Should I be looking at another region too?” said Al-Riffai.
Private sector potential
Private sector organisations can also contribute data to Arab Spatial, she said. IFPRI has developed the tool to be able to include data from hundreds of different sources – the organisation is currently incorporating decades-worth of data from the International Fund for Agricultural Development's projects in the region.
Al-Riffai explained that while data availability had initially been an issue, governments and organisations have become increasingly open to supplying the information required.
“They've very slowly started shifting their perspective – before, it was 'data means power', so they keep the data they have, to hold on to their power. But now I think it's slowly changing, especially with the global movement to open access data, so that's a good thing,” she said.
The Arab Spatial tool is available at: http://www.arabspatial.org/