Food and Agriculture Indicators Reveal Impacts of Pandemic on Data Collection

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) has released its second SDG Progress Report. It provides updates on the status of the global indicators for which FAO serves as the statistical custodian. The indicators under FAO custodianship measure global targets for SDGs 2 (zero hunger), 5 (gender equality), 6 (clean water and sanitation), 12 (responsible consumption and production), 14 (life below water), 15 (life on land).

The report titled, ‘Tracking Progress on Food and Agriculture-related SDG Indicators 2020: A Report on the Indicators under FAO Custodianship,’ was released on 15 September 2020.

The first such report, issued in 2019, found that the world was not going to meet most of the SDG targets related to food and agriculture by 2030. In the second report, the FAO finds that the COVID-19 pandemic has not only made it even more difficult to achieve the SDGs, and more unlikely that the food and agriculture targets will be met on time, but it has also made it more difficult to monitor progress.

Among the findings on SDG progress:

  • The prevalence of undernourishment is stagnating, and food insecurity is worsening;
  • Practices to conserve genetic resources have been disrupted, but in Northern Africa, efforts have increased;
  • Countries’ legal provisions do not adequately protect the rights of women to land, with only 12% of those assessed providing a very high degree of legal protection;
  • In Central and Southern Asia and Northern Africa, water stress levels are very high, but globally they are at a safe level;
  • In Southern Asia, water use efficiency has improved;
  • An estimated 13.8% of food is lost after harvest on farm and in transport, storage, and processing (it is not yet possible to estimate food waste at retail and consumption stages);
  • Most countries have made good overall progress in implementing international instruments to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing;
  • Globally, forest area continues to decrease, though at a slightly slower rate; and
  • The world has made some progress towards sustainable forest management. 

Among the findings on how the pandemic has affected SDG monitoring, the report notes that COVID-19 disrupted national agricultural censuses in many countries, meaning they were delayed, postponed, or suspended. Such censuses are key to identifying immediate needs, the authors note. In addition, for one in four countries surveyed, nearly all data collection by national statistical agencies was adversely affected, “vastly complicating FAO’s work as the custodian agency” for the global SDG indicators.

The FAO is turning to alternative data sources to continue monitoring trends and to ensure real-time assessment of how disruptions caused by the pandemic are affecting food systems. It reports that satellite imagery and machine-learning models are being integrated with other data sets.

FAO notes that it has set up a Big Data laboratory and tool to gather real-time information for a series of indicators, a Food Price Monitoring and Analysis tool, and the Hand in Hand Geospatial Platform. [Publication: Tracking progress on food and agriculture-related SDG indicators 2020: A report on the indicators under FAO custodianship] [FAO press release] [Indicators under FAO custodianship