About FAO Spatial Datasets

FAO and geographic information

FAO has a wide-ranging mandate that includes activities as diverse as agricultural development, food security, forestry, fisheries, water and soil resources management, rural poverty alleviation, climate change and bioenergy impact on food security. In these areas of work, as well as other undertakings in the area of sustainable development, the use of Geographic Information System (GIS) technologies is widespread.

Several groups in FAO are steadily engaged in creating and using various thematic geo-data sets that relate to their specific mandate. Among the large variety of FAO products, some of the coarse resolution datasets at global, continental and sub-continental levels have been identified as Core Datasets that FAO makes  available to the Geospatial Community.

What is geographic information?

Spatial data, also referred to as geographic information, geospatial data or geo-information is defined as data about the location, shape of and relationships among geographic features. The use of Geographic Information System (GIS) technologies supports data collection, analysis, and decision making.

The evolution of geographic information

Awareness of the significance of geographic information has grown as a result of a variety of international debates on environment and development such as the United Nations conferences of Rio de Janeiro and Johannesburg in 1992 and 2002, respectively, as well as other national and regional fora. In parallel, the technical capacity to acquire, process, analyze, display and manage massive amounts of spatial data has increased over the last twenty years. For instance, during the last decade, technological advancements in remote sensing from a variety of environmental and earth resources satellites as well as GIS and global positioning system (GPS) software have contributed to the creation of many digital spatial databases, map archives and geospatial data clearinghouses.

Information for what?

Most of the data collected, analyzed and used by FAO as well as other UN agencies and International organizations (e.g. satellite imagery, thematic maps, census, social and economic statistics, reports on the state of the environment at country or regional level) is linked to a location and will benefit from being presented in a map context. Identifying the spatial component of phenomena such as food insecurity and rural poverty is critical both in designing and implementing short-term interventions and long-term aid strategies.

 Data for whom?

The dramatic expansion of this wealth of geographic information has hardly been matched by the ability for the user to access the spatial data themselves. This shortcoming is crucial since the value of information is measured largely by the ability of potential users to find and use it. The challenge for FAO, as well as for the whole spatial data community, is to make spatial information more accessible to technicians, decision-makers and common users who manage and study various aspects of sustainable development

Making data available

The FAO, along with other UN Agencies with complementary mandates (WFP, UNEP and OCHA), over the past years has concentrated efforts on improving dynamic and standardized access to its geospatial data holdings, as well as to those generated by and located at a variety of organizations and institutions worldwide.

This effort has materialized in the development of GeoNetwork, a Web based spatial information management system whose manifold objective is to provide the means to identify, access, search, retrieve and combine geo-information, such as spatial datasets, thematic maps and satellite imagery from a variety of sources.

Through GeoNetwork, data collections are organized, documented and published in FAO in a consistent way, following international standards for services and protocols both at the metadata and data level For more information on GeoNetwork visit its web site at http://www.fao.org/geonetwork.

Spatial Standard and Norms

FAO is establishing GIS guidelines and spatial standards and norms for internal use in order to rationalize, harmonize and advance its GIS and cartographic activities and to further develop GeoNetwork. At the same time several base maps are being developed with a number of partners for internal and external use.

For GIS guidelines and the standards to be used in FAO's interdisciplinary spatial database contact: GIS-Manager@fao.org.

last updated:  Tuesday, March 31, 2009