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Global $500M Data Drive Aims to Boost Harvests, End Hunger

FILE - A farmer works in a cornfield in Santa Ana, El Salvador.
FILE - A farmer works in a cornfield in Santa Ana, El Salvador.

A $500 million data drive aims to improve the harvests of hundreds of millions of farmers worldwide as rising hunger levels threaten a global goal to end hunger by 2030, organizations involved in the initiative said Tuesday.

Developing countries and donors launched the "50 X 2030" scheme on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, seeking funding to gather farming data through surveys in 50 nations across Africa, Asia and Latin America over the next 12 years.

Basic statistics, such as what farmers are planting, their yields and access to finance, are often lacking, incomplete or unreliable, making it difficult for governments and donors to know where or how to invest their cash, the United Nations said.

"Each year, governments, businesses and the private sector invest hundreds of billions of dollars in agriculture and design policies without this critical information," said Emily Hogue, a U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization senior adviser. "This could cause losses in agricultural productivity and income and could also lead to continuing hunger and poverty."

The push for better data was announced weeks after new U.N. figures showed world hunger has risen for three years running, with 821 million people — one in nine — going hungry in 2017.

Eliminating hunger is one of the 17 U.N. sustainable development goals ( agreed upon by world leaders in 2015.

The initiative aims to increase the coverage and frequency of agricultural surveys so that governments have the information needed to plan and implement the right policies, experts said.

In sub-Saharan Africa, where at least one in four people is estimated to have suffered from chronic hunger in 2017, only two out of 44 nations have high-quality agriculture data, according to the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data.

For example, agriculture experts puzzled for years over why milk production was stagnant in an area of East Africa with an abundance of grazing land and rising consumer demand. A detailed survey conducted in 2014 discovered that a lack of basic livestock services, including veterinary care, was hampering production, which rose after the needs were addressed.

"Better data means governments can get the right support to farmers at the right time to increase production and improve their lives," Claire Melamed, head of the Global Partnership — a network of 300 partners — told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "It's a long-term investment."

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