ERS Charts of Note

Subscribe to get highlights from our current and past research, Monday through Friday, or see our privacy policy.
See also: Editors' Pick: Charts of Note 2019 gallery.


Agricultural goods are the most common target of export taxes

Thursday, September 17, 2015

During the surges in world agricultural and food prices over 2006-12, many countries restricted agricultural exports by implementing taxes, quotas, or complete export bans. Taxing exports is a longstanding practice among many countries. An ERS analysis of reports by the World Trade Organization found that from 1995 to 2014, 74 countries and trading blocs (out of 121 that were reviewed) applied export taxes for products such as agricultural goods, fishery/forestry products, and minerals/metals, with 58 of these countries taxing at least one agricultural product. Reasons to tax exports include obtaining revenue, supporting the domestic processing sector by reducing the price of raw materials, and—if the exported good is a food product—benefiting domestic consumers and improving the country’s food security. For countries that are important suppliers to world markets, export taxes can lead to higher prices worldwide due to the reduced volume of exports resulting from the tax, thus benefitting competing suppliers while hurting foreign consumers. The chart is based on the report Alternative Policies to Agricultural Export Taxes That Are Less Market Distorting, ERR-187.

Food insecurity to remain most severe in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2015

Monday, September 14, 2015

Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) will remain the most food-insecure region in the world in 2015, according to the USDA International Food Security Assessment: 2015-2025. The 39 SSA countries included in the study account for about 25 percent of the population of the 76 countries covered, but more than half of the global population estimated to be food insecure in 2015. The intensity of food insecurity in the region is highlighted by the fact that it accounts for roughly 90 percent of the distribution gap—the estimated amount of food needed to raise food consumption in all income groups to the nutritional target of 2,100 calories per day—in 2015. There is, however, wide variation in levels of food security within SSA. In 20 of the 39 countries, 80 percent or more of the population is estimated to be food secure in 2015. On the other hand, there are 9 countries where 90 percent or more of the population is estimated to be food insecure: the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Eritrea, Somalia, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, and Chad. Find this chart and additional information in International Food Security Assessment: 2015-2025.

Most Indian crop yields remain below the world average

Monday, August 17, 2015

India’s large and diverse agricultural sector is growing more rapidly than it was a decade ago, but per hectare yields of most major crops remain low by world standards despite generally good quality soils; ample, if highly seasonal, rainfall; and the largest irrigated area in the world. Of India’s major crops, only wheat—which is 93 percent irrigated—has average yields near the world average. India’s small scale-farm holdings—the average farm is 1.15 hectares—are often cited as a reason for slow adoption of yield enhancing technology. Another possible factor is the relatively low level of public investment in agricultural research, extension, and market infrastructure. However, private investment in Indian agriculture is now much larger than public investment and is credited with the development and adoption of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) cotton varieties and hybrid corn, the rapid growth of integrated poultry operations, and the still nascent development of modern food marketing and supply chains. USDA long-term projections for India suggest a continued gradual increase in major crop yields towards potential yields, but greater public and private investment could accelerate the rate of yield improvement. This chart is from the Amber Waves article "Food Policy and Productivity Key to India Outlook."

International agricultural productivity growth remains uneven across countries

Monday, August 10, 2015

Agricultural total factor productivity (TFP) is the difference between the aggregate total output of crop/livestock commodities and the combined use of land, labor, capital and material inputs employed in farm production. Growth in TFP implies that the adoption of new technology or improved management of farm resources is increasing average productivity or efficiency of input use. Worldwide, agricultural TFP grew at an average annual rate of 1.7 percent during of 2002-11, the latest decade for which figures are available. However, not all countries are achieving growth in agricultural TFP. Among developing countries, some large countries like China and Brazil are improving their agricultural TFP rapidly, but many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are lagging behind. Most developed countries are continuing to achieve moderate rates of agricultural TFP growth, but some, such as the UK and Australia, have experienced a slowdown in TFP growth. Maintaining growth in agricultural TFP is necessary for achieving global food security goals and could help preserve natural resources. This map is based on data from ERS’ International Agricultural Productivity accounts.

Countries in Sub-Saharan Africa rely more on grain imports to improve food security

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Low- and middle-income countries in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) have, as a whole, expanded their grain imports faster than similar countries in other regions. Increasing reliance on imports has improved food supplies, but increased the region’s vulnerability to higher world prices. Food-insecure countries can improve their availability of food either by expanding production, increasing imports, or reducing population growth. ERS analysis found that many countries adopt more than one of these strategies, but that SSA countries have expanded grain imports the fastest, nearly tripling imports since 1995. Low- and middle-income Asian countries, despite their relatively large populations, have shown the least growth in grain trade and have instead focused on improving food security by expanding their own production. Latin American and Caribbean countries have shown increases in both grain imports and local production. Regardless of the strategy adopted, 37 food insecure countries (nearly half of the 76 countries studied) were successful in meeting the goal set in the 1996 World Food Summit of halving their food-insecure populations by 2015. Find this chart and additional information in International Food Security Assessment: 2015-2025.

Sub-Saharan Africa food aid receipts variable but declining

Friday, May 15, 2015

Sub-Saharan Africa food aid receipts have generally declined over the past 10 years, but remain highly variable and continue to account for the largest regional share of global food aid. Annual fluctuations in food aid to the region is partly a result of the shift in the composition of food aid from program aid to meeting more variable emergency assistance needs; emergency assistance accounted for about half of all food aid in 2000, rising to about 70 percent in 2012. Several of the recent major food aid recipient countries in the region, including Sudan and Somalia, are countries with significant emergency needs associated with domestic supply shortages and/or civil unrest. The general decline in Sub-Saharan African food aid receipts since the early 2000’s is partly due to improved supply conditions in some countries in the region, and partly due to the decline in the volume global food aid, which fell from 11.3 million tons in 2000 to less than 7 million tons in 2012. This chart is based on data found in International Food Security and analysis found in International Food Security Assessment: 2014-2024.

Food grain yields key to improving food security in low-income countries

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Eighty percent or more of grain supplies are produced domestically in a majority of the 76 countries included in USDA’s annual International Food Security Assessment, making food grain production key to the assessment of food security conditions. Historically, area expansion was the main driver behind improved performance, but over the last two decades, production increases have stemmed primarily from attaining higher yields. Countries with higher yield growth have generally made steady progress toward reducing the shares of their population assessed as food-insecure. However, per hectare grain yields in a number of countries remain well below the world average and have failed to grow, resulting in relatively little progress towards reducing their food-insecure populations. In the Sub-Saharan Africa region, which generally includes most of the more vulnerable, low- and middle-income countries assessed, ERS analysis indicates that more countries are successfully adopting modern seed varieties that are contributing to improved yields. For additional analysis, see International Food Security Assessment, 2014-24.

Calorie shares of the diet in Tanzania, by region

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Food consumption patterns vary widely across different regions of Tanzania, leading to significant differences in food basket costs and impacts of changes in food prices. Understanding these consumption patterns is key to measuring access to food in developing countries and supports U.S. policies targeting global food security. ERS analyzed consumption patterns nationally and for three regions: the business capital Dar es Salaam, the Southern Highlands, and the Lake Zone in the northwestern corner of the country. On average, the Tanzanian diet relies heavily on starchy staples, with maize providing over 40 percent of household calories. But maize accounts for 51 percent of total calories in the Southern Highlands, where it’s produced in surplus, and just 32 percent of calories the deficit producing Lake Zone. In the Lake Zone, cassava is the other key staple, providing about 19 percent of total calories. Rice, beans, and cooking bananas are also important to the Tanzanian diet;in most areas, beans are the main source of protein. Total food basket costs are lowest in the Southern Highlands and highest in Dar es Salaam. This chart is based on data found in Measuring Access to Food in Tanzania: A Food Basket Approach.

Wheat prices in India tend to be less volatile than in world markets

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Wheat is the primary food staple across much of northern India. Government policy interventions have generally kept domestic prices more stable than world prices (represented by the U.S. wheat price), particularly since the 2008 global price spike. Indian policies provide growers with Minimum Support Prices (MSPs), distribute wheat procured at the MSP to consumers at subsidized prices, subsidize storage of operational and buffer stocks, and regulate imports and exports through periodic trade bans and quotas. Low domestic stocks and rising world prices led India to boost wheat MSPs and limit exports during 2007-2009 but by 2012, the accumulation of surplus stocks led to the return of private sector exports. The increase in domestic wheat prices that occurred between 2007 and 2010 was much smaller than the more than 30 percent rise in domestic rice prices. ERS research using Indian household data indicates that, compared with Indian rice consumers, wheat consumers were more able to maintain consumption of wheat and other foods during the 2007-2010 period. This is an updated version of a chart that can be found in Coping Strategies in Response to Rising Food Prices: Evidence from India.

Productivity rises in global agriculture

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

By using new technologies, farmers can produce more food using fewer economic resources at lower costs. One measure of technological change is total factor productivity (TFP). Increased TFP means that fewer economic resources (land, labor, capital and materials) are needed to produce a given amount of economic output. However, TFP does not account for the environmental impacts of agricultural production; resources that are free to the farm sector (such as water quality, greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity) are not typically included in TFP. As a result, TFP indexes may over- or under-estimate the actual resource savings from technological change. Growth in global agricultural TFP began to accelerate in the 1980s, led by large developing countries like China and Brazil. This growth helped keep food prices down even as global demand surged. This chart uses data available in International Agricultural Productivity on the ERS website, updated October 2014.

Low income groups' calorie consumption in developing countries remains below target in some regions

Friday, December 5, 2014

Average regional calorie consumption levels were above the nutritional target of 2,100 calories per person per day in 2009 (most recent data available), but the lowest income groups in Sub Saharan Africa (SSA) and Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) did not meet this target. The LAC region was found to be more food secure than SSA and Asia at national average and higher income levels, but because income distribution is more unequal in this region, consumption levels of the lowest income groups were below those in Asia and roughly equivalent to those in SSA. Regional averages also mask large disparities in consumption across countries, with some countries in each region having average per capita calorie consumption below the nutritional target. Of the developing regions assessed, only North Africa had calorie consumption above the nutritional target in all countries and in all income groups. This chart can be found in the Amber Waves feature, "Despite Improvements in International Food Security, Nutritional Adequacy of Diets Fall Short of Targets in Many Countries."

Indian rice prices typically lower and more stable than world prices

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Because rice is an important commodity for Indian producers and consumers, Indian Government policies intervene heavily in its domestic rice market. Particularly since the global price spike in 2008, India’s system of providing Minimum Support Prices (MSPs) for growers, distributing rice purchased at the MSP to consumers at subsidized prices, and placing periodic bans or quotas on rice exports, has kept domestic rice prices lower and more stable than world prices (represented by the export price of Thai rice). In 2008, India increased subsidized rice distribution and banned most exports of non-basmati (aromatic, long grain) rice to prevent higher world prices from affecting the domestic market; however, domestic rice prices still increased more than 30 percent between mid-2007 and early 2010. According to ERS research, Indian rice consumers were able to maintain rice consumption, but did so primarily by reducing expenditures on non-staple foods, health care, and durable goods. India’s higher level of exports since 2011, along with increases in MSPs, has contributed to current concerns with inflation in domestic rice prices. Find this chart and more in-depth research in Coping Strategies in Response to Rising Food Prices: Evidence from India.

Calorie availability and importance of food in household spending are inversely related

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Celebrated on October 16, World Food Day provides an opportunity to raise awareness of the worldwide problems of poverty and hunger. Countries vary in how much their citizens spend on food at home as a share of consumption expenditures. Consumption expenditures include all household spending, but not savings. High-income countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom have higher food spending in absolute terms, but their food spending share is low. These two countries spent less than 10 percent of their consumption expenditures on food purchased from supermarkets and other food stores in 2013, while the share approached 50 percent in low-income countries such as Kenya. Per capita calorie availability follows the reverse pattern. In 2011, U.S. per capita calorie availability was 3,639 calories per day, while Kenya’s was 2,189 calories—more than one-third less. Middle-income countries such as Brazil and China surpassed daily calorie availability of 3,000 calories per person with a 16-percent share of consumption expenditures for food at home in Brazil and 26 percent in China. The data for this chart come from ERS’s Food Expenditures data product, updated on October 1, 2014, complemented with data from United Nations, Food and Agriculture Organization, FAOSTAT.

Cultivation of modern crop varieties helps improve food security in Sub-Saharan Africa

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) remains the most food-insecure region in the world, but gains in crop yields associated with increased cultivation of modern varieties are leading to improved food availability and food security conditions. Because domestic grain production accounts for about 80 percent of supplies across SSA and grain yields are among the lowest in the world, boosting yields is key to improving food security in the region. Policy reforms and incentives for farmers have spurred adoption of new technologies, such as modern seed varieties. In Nigeria, Benin, Ghana, Senegal, Malawi, and Zambia, 27-55 percent of crop area was devoted to modern varieties in 2006-10; in each of these countries, grain yields have increased between 4 and 16 percent per year. Scenario analysis indicates the potential for significant additional improvements in SSA food security if more countries are able to increase adoption of modern crop varieties. This chart and analysis is based on Productivity Impacts on Food Security in Sub-Saharan Africa, an article in International Food Security Assessment, 2014-2024.

Despite gains, food insecurity remains concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa

Monday, July 7, 2014

A recent ERS international food security assessment indicates that Sub-Saharan Africa remains the most food-insecure region in the world, although the region shows significant improvement over previous assessments. The share of the population that is food insecure is projected to decline to under 30 percent in 2014, compared with 50 percent or more of the population estimated to be food insecure in the late 1990s. Estimates of the distribution gap—the amount of additional food needed to increase per capita consumption in all income groups to the nutritional target of about 2,100 calories per day—show that the overall gap for the region will decline about 17 percent in 2014. However, the intensity of food insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa—measured by the distribution gap—is expected to remain high relative to other regions studied. The overall improvement in food security in the region in 2014 is primarily due to the outlook for increased grain production. The ERS assessment also foresees improved food security conditions in 2014 in Asia and the Latin America and Caribbean region, as well as improvements in the generally food-secure conditions in North Africa. Find this chart and additional analysis in International Food Security Assessment, 2014-2024.

Productivity drives agricultural output growth in most regions of the world

Monday, May 5, 2014

Productivity growth in agriculture enables farmers to produce a greater abundance of food at lower prices, using fewer resources. A broad measure of agricultural productivity performance is total factor productivity (TFP). Unlike other commonly used productivity indicators like yield per acre, TFP takes into account a much broader set of inputs—including land, labor, capital, and materials—used in agricultural production. ERS analysis finds that globally, agricultural TFP growth accelerated in recent decades, largely because of improving productivity in developing countries and the transition economies of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. During 2001-2010, agricultural TFP growth in North America and the transition economies offset declining input use to keep agricultural output growing. By contrast, declining input use in Europe offset growing TFP, resulting in a slight decline in agricultural output over the decade. In most regions of the developing world, improvements in TFP are now more important than expansion of inputs as a source of growth in agricultural production. Sub-Saharan Africa is the only major region of the world where growth in agricultural inputs accounts for a higher share of output growth than growth in TFP. This chart is based on the table found in “Growth in Global Agricultural Productivity: An Update,” in the November 2013 Amber Waves online magazine, and the ERS data product on International Agricultural Productivity.

India's rising food subsidy leads to little change in food grain consumption

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The cost of India’s food subsidy policy has increased significantly since 2000, reaching about $13.5 billion annually in 2011/12 (April/March Indian fiscal year). The rising cost has been driven by higher support prices to farmers, unchanged issue prices for subsidized wheat and rice distributed through the government’s Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS), and the cost of storing rising stocks. Per capita wheat and rice consumption has changed little, although TPDS grain now accounts for a larger share of consumption, potentially increasing the ability of recipients to buy other foods. Assessments of the TPDS indicate substantial leakages in the delivery of grains that have prevented many households from purchasing their full ration. India’s new National Food Security Act (NFSA), signed into law in September of 2013, aims to expand the share of households eligible for the most preferential subsidized prices and also implement a number of safeguards to improve the distribution of food grains. Whether reforms under the new legislation will have a significant impact on food and nutrition security given the historically poor functioning of distribution programs in a number of Indian states remains uncertain. Find this chart and additional analysis in “India Continues to Grapple with Food Insecurity” in the February 2014 Amber Waves.

Increased productivity now the primary source of growth in world agriculture

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The average annual rate of global agricultural growth slowed in the 1970s and 1980s but then accelerated in the 1990s and 2000s. In the decades prior to 1990, most output growth came about from intensification of input use (i.e., using more labor, capital, and material inputs per acre of agricultural land). Bringing new land into agriculture production and extending irrigation to existing agricultural land were also important sources of growth. Over the last two decades, however, the rate of growth in agricultural resources (land, labor, capital, etc.) slowed. In 2001-10, improvements in productivity—getting more output from existing resources—accounted for more than three-quarters of the total growth in global agricultural output, reflecting the use of new technology and changes in management by agricultural producers around the world. This chart is found in the ERS data product, International Agricultural Productivity, on the ERS website, updated November 2013.

Afghanistan emerges as major importer of wheat flour

Friday, November 15, 2013

Afghanistan is among the world’s largest importers of wheat flour, with imports growing since 2000 because of a recovery in internal demand, and inadequate water supplies that continue to limit domestic wheat production. Afghan flour production—the nation’s largest official agro-industry—faces competition from imported flour, much of it from neighboring Pakistan where wheat producers and flour millers benefit from Government support. Efforts to support Afghanistan’s flour-milling sector by increasing border protections on flour and wheat—if enforceable along the country’s rugged borders—would have uncertain impact on water-constrained wheat production, and impose higher costs on consumers. Unhindered wheat and flour imports, including imports from Pakistan, may support growth in domestic flour consumption, with relatively small losses in farm output. This chart appears in Afghanistan’s Wheat Flour Market: Policies and Prospects.

Sub-Saharan Africa remains the most food-insecure region in 2013

Monday, July 1, 2013

ERS analysis of global food insecurity covering 76 low- and middle-income countries estimates the food-insecure population at about 707 million in 2013, virtually unchanged from 704 million in 2012. The share of the population that is food insecure in these countries is expected to decrease from about 21 percent in 2012 to 20 percent in 2013. The intensity of food insecurity—as measured by the per capita distribution gap—is estimated to remain the highest in Sub-Saharan Africa and the lowest in North Africa and Asia. The assessment accounts for changes in production and import capacity that affect food availability, as well as the distribution of food across income groups. For the analysis, food insecurity is defined as daily per capita consumption below a target of 2,100 calories, and the per capita distribution gap estimates of the amount of food needed to raise consumption in each income group to the nutritional target. This chart appears in International Food Security Assessment, 2013-23, GFA-24.

Charts of Note header image for left nav