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Investing in data for the SDGs: Why good numbers matter


03/07/2019 - 

Good decisions are based on accurate information, and the availability and use of high-quality data are vital for evidence-based decision-making and the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. With just over ten years left until 2030, it is imperative to accelerate transformative actions that will help countries reach the agreed goals. Decision makers need better data to shape effective policies, encourage investment, target programmes, and measure progress towards sustainable development.

Statistics are at the core of FAO’s work. They inform authoritative publications across all areas relating to food, agriculture and sustainable natural resources management, including the “State of the World” flagship series. They also allow FAO to better tailor its support to countries in achieving and measuring progress toward the SDGs.

Why does achieving the SDGs require high-quality data?

According to the available evidence, we are not on track to meet the overwhelming majority of SDG targets related to sustainable agriculture, food security and nutrition. Hunger is on the rise, and natural resources are under increasing pressure from human activity. This suggests that the measures taken so far by governments and the international community have not been sufficient.

One key reason for this is the limited availability and use of relevant data. Fundamentally, data are needed to identify the most pressing constraints and design targeted interventions. For instance, data offer vital information on which groups of people or areas of a country to focus on. Questions such as “which population group is facing the most severe constraints in accessing food?”, “in which region of the country is food insecurity most severe?”, “what are the key factors underlying the inability of individuals or households to access food?” can only be answered with the appropriate data.

Good data are essential not only for identifying critical intervention points, but also to guide action throughout the entire policy or programme cycle. Data helps to determine the appropriate scope of funding, inform corrective action when an intervention has steered off course, and guide future interventions based on the evaluations of previous interventions. In this way, data are the “eyes and ears” of decision-makers, maximizing the efficiency and efficacy of an intervention, and bringing us closer to achieving the SDGs.

What is FAO doing to improve country data for monitoring SDG achievements and inform policy decisions?

Over the past few years, FAO has made significant progress in fulfilling its role as custodian agency for 21 SDG indicators across SDGs 2, 5, 6, 12, 14 and 15, and contributing agency for a further five indicators, accounting for almost ten percent of the global SDG indicator framework. These indicators capture information on hunger, food insecurity, sustainable agriculture and the sustainable use of natural resources.

Even though a majority of these indicators were new and did not have internationally agreed methodologies at the outset, by April 2019, FAO managed to establish international standards and methodologies for all 21 SDG indicators. However, as the adoption of indicators by countries is not automatic, several initiatives currently support countries in adapting available data collection tools or adopting new ones in order to be able to report on all SDG indicators under FAO custodianship.

To further support countries in building their own capacity for producing and using SDG indicators, FAO has developed a fully-fledged technical assistance programme entitled “Measuring the SDGs: Improving country data for monitoring SDG achievements and informing policy decisions”. The programme aims to increase the availability and quality of statistics and inform better decision-making on the SDGs by assessing and strengthening existing national statistical systems, working in close collaboration with other custodian agencies and statistical partners. FAO is seeking new and renewed partnerships to fund the USD 21 million programme, which is a key ingredient in putting the 2030 Agenda back on track.

Why invest in data for the SDGs?

According to a recent SDG Gap Assessment conducted by FAO, there is enormous need to develop capacity at the national level to ensure that countries can produce and report on most SDG indicators within the next few years. Initial results suggest that 72 percent of countries require external assistance to produce one or more of the 21 SDG indicators under FAO custodianship.

Statistics is generally underfunded both at national and international levels. While studies estimate that an additional annual investment in statistics of USD 100-200 million is needed to adequately monitor the SDGs, less than one percent of Official Development Assistance (ODA) is currently dedicated to statistics. Investing in better data is critical to ensure that scarce humanitarian relief and development resources are put to good use. This is true not only for public entities, but also for private entities, civil society organizations (CSOs), non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and all other actors that contribute to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

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