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Geopolitical ontology

The FAO geopolitical ontology and related services have been developed to facilitate data exchange and sharing in a standardized manner among systems managing information about countries and/or regions.

The geopolitical ontology ensures that FAO and associated partners can rely on a master reference for geopolitical information, as it manages names in multiple languages (English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, Russian and Italian); maps standard coding systems (UN, ISO, FAOSTAT, AGROVOC, etc); provides relations among territories (land borders, group membership, etc); and tracks historical changes.

Geopolitical ontology overview

The geopolitical ontology has been populated using FAO, UN and internationally recognized data sources.

The geopolitical ontology manages the following information:

Area types1:

  • Territories: self-governing, non-self-governing, disputed, other
  • Groups: geographic, economic, organizations, special groups

Data associated to areas:

  • Names (official, short and names for lists) in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Spanish, Russian and Italian.
  • International codes: UN code – M49, ISO-3166 Alpha-2 and Alpha-3, UNDP code, GAUL code, FAOSTAT, AGROVOC and FAOTERM
  • Coordinates: maximum latitude, minimum latitude, maximum longitude, minimum longitude
  • DBPedia ID
  • Currency names and codes
  • Adjectives of nationality
  • Basic statistical data: country area, land area, agricultural land area, population and GDP


  • Groups membership
  • Land borders
  • Historic changes: predecessor, successor, valid since2, valid until3

The use of the ontology is governed by the FAO copyright. For any queries regarding the content, sources or use please contact .

Partial representation of the geopolitical ontology: Example Russian Federation


Ontology: A description of a given domain, expressed by means of a standardized language. The geopolitical ontology is implemented in Ontology Web Language (OWL) 1.0 language, which is a W3C standard. Ontology is a term borrowed from philosophy that refers to the science of describing the kinds of entities in the world and how they are related. An OWL ontology may include descriptions of classes, properties, instances. All these objects are called resources.

Domain: The particular area of interest modelled by the ontology.

Class: A collection of objects sharing the same definition, e.g. “area”. For example, the class “area” is defined as having names to use in different context, codes, etc (corresponding to the properties “hasShortName”, “hasOfficialName”, “code” ). Classes may be organized hierarchically, as in the case of “area”, superclass of the classes “group” and “territory”. The classes “group” and “territories” are said subclasses of “area”.

Instance: An individual belonging to a given class, e.g. “Argentina” is an instance of the class of territories that are “self-governing”. Instances of a class have specific values for the properties defined at the class level.

Property: Any attributes of the object described. Properties may be of two types: datatype properties and object properties. Datatype properties are used to describe “simple” properties, expressed by means of literals or numbers. Object properties are used for attributes whose value is an instance of another class. Properties may be organized hierarchically, as in the case of the property “code”, with subproperties “CodeAGROVOC,” “CodeFAOSTAT” etc. The property “code” is said superproperty of “CodeAGROVOC” and “CodeFAOSTAT.”

1 In cases where an area (territory or group) changed in time but kept the name, the ontology differentiates the two areas by sub-fixing the name of the obsolete one with the year (e.g. “FAO 2006”). The year indicates the beginning of validity of that particular area.

2 The value of the datatype property "validSince" gives the starting year of validity of the area (territory or group) it is associated with. The geopolitical ontology traces back historic changes only until 1985. Therefore if an area has a validSince = 1985, this indicates that the area is valid since 1985 or before.

3 The value of the datatype property "validUntil" gives the last year of validity of the area (territory or group) it is associated with. In case the area is currently valid, this value is set by default to 9999.