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Poverty and food security are heterogeneous phenomena in most countries; types and depth of poverty, measured in different ways, vary between and within countries and regions. Poverty mapping in its various forms involves techniques that permit sufficient disaggregation of a poverty measure to local administrative levels or small geographical units. All poverty-mapping techniques imply alternative schemes for weighting a particular poverty index, and may imply alternative poverty ranking of the chosen unit. The methods used vary from participatory poverty profiles to sophisticated econometric techniques; most are under continuing development. Each has different data requirements and implementation costs, and different advantages and disadvantages. Statistical error and possible bias are significant issues in poverty mapping.

With this publication, FAO seeks to explore the wide variety of tools available for poverty mapping. The purpose of this paper is to discuss poverty and food-security mapping in terms of relevance and available options for analysis, policy design and implementation in the rural sectors of developing countries. The paper presents and compares a large selection of poverty and food-security mapping methodologies in use, in order to provide some guidance as to their potential and appropriateness for different policy applications. Many of the methods analysed play a crucial role in targeting interventions, from rural anti poverty programs to allocation of public services to early warning systems. As such, this publication can assist practitioners in the formulation and implementation of poverty reduction, food security and sustainable development strategies, and in the monitoring of progress toward the achievement of various international commitments and goals within the framework of Food Insecurity and Vulnerability Information and Mapping Systems (FIVIMS) and the Millennium Assessment Programme.

The author finds that poverty mapping does not yet have a gold standard, partly because the context of poverty mapping is as varied as its applications. Thus the choice of a poverty-mapping methodology depends on a number of logical and legitimate considerations, such as objectives of the poverty mapping exercise, philosophical views on poverty, limits on data and analytical capacity and cost. While practitioners should choose the most appropriate method for their purposes, the most disturbing problem with current poverty-mapping methods is the minimal attention paid to potential error and bias, and to the types or characteristics of the poor populations chosen by different methodologies. Given the lack of information regarding bias and error in most poverty-mapping methods, practitioners should proceed with full awareness of the pitfalls and uncertainties of their particular method. The robustness of the chosen method should if possible be evaluated in terms of component variables, outcome indicators and alternative methods. Further research is clearly needed in terms of comparing the statistical precision and practical outcomes of different methods. Evaluating the statistical properties of some methods may not be technically feasible, but recognizing the potential bias of each method in terms of the resulting poverty profile is an essential first step.

FAO is grateful to the Government of Norway for the encouragement and funding support that it has provided for this work.

Rome, February 2003

Prabhu Pingali, Director
Agriculture and Economic
Development Analysis Division
Economic and Social Department

Dietrich E. Leihner, Director
Research, Extension
and Training Division
Sustainable Development Department

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