Where do My Crops Come From?, Part 2


In my July 19 blog, I started a discussion on the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)’s use of data visualizations to show the relationships between food production. I explained the circular plots with respect to the amount of food produced natively and how that was important to the human diets in various regions of the world. The data visualizations we looked at in the April 2016 CIAT study last week highlight the extensive connections among countries worldwide. Foreign crops make up on average 66% of a nation’s food supply. This week I want to take a look at the value of a few crops using other visualizations and discuss one way this data could be used.

Today I want to look at some of the economic data from Central America in the circular plot in the feature image above. The Central America region includes Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Panama. The data for each crop was analyzed using FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations) data from 2009-2011. When you hover over the widest orange line on the left side of the visual, you can see that the value of all Central American crops to East Asia (the endpoint of the line) is 152,002 million US$. Although the plot doesn’t break down the value by individual crop, the added graphic with icons on the right of the plot lists these. We can see that Maize is a very important crop produced in Central America with a value of 50,677 million US$ to East Asia alone.

The races of maize in Central America and Mexico have long been documented by the USDA and many others. Characteristics of these more than 300 varieties of maize have been described and quantified in many publications. But what questions and/or recommendations can we draw from this economic data?


The crop value data from the CIAT study could be combined with other open data to convince how important it is to the economy of a nation to increase plant diversity. If Central America and Mexico rely on maize production as shown in the data visualization, steps should be taken to minimize disruption to this crop. Data from 400 experiments shows that increasing the diversity in the types of a crop ensure it is not damaged as described in a American Journal of Botany article by B.J. Cardinale et al. Thus, policies increasing and/or maintaining current levels of biodiversity in maize in Central America and Mexico could ensure its production and thus directly affect their economies.

I love it when data gives us a solid foundation to make informed decisions with confidence. I love it even more when data gives us answers to preventing and/or solving problems.

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