Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Praise for FAOSTAT 3: Great Interface, Great Data

Photo credit: limaoscarjuliet. 
As many readers know, I am writing a book on China's agricultural investments in Africa. One of pieces of conventional wisdom I am questioning is the assumption that China wants to source its food in Africa. It's clear from detailed COMTRADE trade data that China actually exports far more food to Africa than the reverse. But that database is a pain to use.

Over the past few days I've been playing with the quick and easy FAOSTAT version 3, and I am really thrilled with its interface, and the range of data it provides. I hope it's good data -- it seems to match with other sources I'm using -- but what I especially love about it is the ease of queries on production and trade. Want to know where the Chinese sugar project in Benin exports its sugar? Bingo! (Portugal, France -- not China). Want to know if China exports rice to Mozambique? Bingo! (yes).

I know, this is all impossibly nerdy, but what a great job FAO is doing with making their data on food accessible. UN-COMTRADE: "eat" your heart out. 


Dr Nickel said...

thanks, that was fun ... too bad it only goes up to 2011

Unknown said...

its useful data. However, the noise in the data arises from the source and that is countries reporting things to the FAO. For Africa, the quality of this type of data varies depending on the commodities. Export commodities and livestock tend to be good; foodstuffs more dicey!

Anonymous said...

Having had a number of clients who are interested in free (or as near as possible to free) trade data and are especially interested in competition in Africa from China, I happened to stumble across the Trade Map site (

I registered for the site from South Africa and they recognised that I was in a developing country, so I got free access. I'm not sure what it would cost coming from a developed country.

As to usability - the site is infinitely easier than COMTRADE, though one still needs to use the right HS-Codes to get any type of information.

As an interesting aside, when writing "China Mining in Africa" for a former conservative employer, I compiled a spreadsheet of the sources of China's resource imports and two things struck me:

1. how relatively little Africa exported to China versus Latin America or Australia (probably infrastructure and political stability limited) and that these numbers, while growing quickly off of a small base, weren't actually growing that much; and

2. There was an interesting discrepancy between the exporting country's numbers and China's importing numbers, with the latter sometimes significantly lower. I think it could be attributed to one of two factors or a combination thereof - either different reporting periods or China was offloading some of the resources between the source and the Chinese port.

The point of the matter, Trade Map was invaluable in sourcing this information. And I have been able to correlate it with paid for data from the South African Revenue Service, so there is at least a modicum of reliability in terms of SA trade data.

Carlos Oya said...

FAOSTAT has greatly improved, indeed but at the moment it still suffers from some problems:

1. There is little data adjustment done (unlike the WB) so a lot of unreliable information, especially from SSA gets into the database, especially for production figures.

2. On trade, these are more reliable but unfortunately not as disaggregated as COMTRADE. If you need to check the right HS-Codes I'm afraid FAOSTAT does not allow this and sometimes you need to check COMTRADE for particular products. For example if you are interested in different types of flower sub-products you won't get this from FAOSTAT...