Hunger is a critical issue affecting approximately 870 million people worldwide. With new technologies, research, and telecommunication, we as a global population have the power to significantly reduce the levels of hunger around the world. But in order to accomplish this, the people who have control of the aforementioned research and technology will need to share their data and combine forces to create direct solutions to this global problem.

This is precisely what the good people at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) are working toward. What the IFPRI has to offer is data–data on every country around the world, data about malnutrition, child mortality rates, ecology, rainfall, and much more. With the help of Web Portal Specialists like Soonho Kim, they are working on making that data open and easily accessible, but they are currently facing a number of challenges along the way. Soonho spoke to an intimate group of semantic technology experts at the recent Semantic Technology Conference, sharing the successes of the IFPRI thus far and the areas where they could use some help.

Soonho spoke about a joint effort between the IFPRI, Welthungerhilfe, and Concern Worldwide: the Global Hunger Index. According to the IFPRI, “The Global Hunger Index (GHI) is designed to comprehensively measure and track hunger globally and by country and region. Calculated each year by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), the GHI highlights successes and failures in hunger reduction and provides insights into the drivers of hunger. By raising awareness and understanding of regional and country differences in hunger, the GHI aims to trigger actions to reduce hunger.”

The GHI takes three factors into consideration–undernourishment, rate of children who are underweight, and child mortality rates–and then assigns each country a single index number between zero and one hundred. A score of zero indicates no hunger, though no country has achieved this score. Based on the number, countries are categorized as having a low, moderate, serious, alarming, or an extremely alarming rate of hunger. Currently, twenty countries have ratings of “alarming” or “extremely alarming.”

The IFPRI decided to provide the GHI as linked open data (LOD) so that it can be combined with other relevant information and used as a free, easily accessible tool that can indirectly contribute to direct global hunger solutions. The raw, structured data of the GHI is available here in RDF. The LOD version is available here.

In order to publish their data as LOD, IFPRI decided to use existing vocabularies including schema.org and interlink the GHI with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nation’s geopolitical ontology. This allowed IFPRI to include official country information along with their information about undernourishment, child malnourishment, and child mortality. IFPRI also developed a SPARQL endpoint to enable people and machines to query the data set.

These are all excellent steps forward, but the IFPRI is struggling to make the information it has to offer more relevant and useful. Current issues they are facing include:

  • Integrating legacy data: The data set currently includes only data from 2005-2012.
  • Organization of geospatial data: Each layer of information that the IFPRI provides has its own set of geospatial data including data about rainfall, population, elevation, ecology, and livestock. The IFPRI is currently struggling with how to organize this data. (A member of the audience from the W3C informed us that a new Geospatial Data + The Web Working Group is coming soon to help with just such issues.)
  • Integration of LOD and geospatial data: The IFPRI would like their LOD to be integrated with geospatial data and have a way to model that data. Ideally, farmers and researchers around the world would be able to download the data and play with the models through an app.
  • Scalability: Creating a simple and low-cost method for scaling their data is a major concern, particularly given the budgetary constraints of the IFPRI.
  • Access: Soonho commented that Drupal is great for content, but not good for databases. In essence, the overall challenge that the IFPRI is facing is creating an easy to use, integrated semantic application.

The linked open data efforts at the IFPRI are still quite young, and the organization is looking for feedback. If you have the time and ability to help, please visit the IFPRI website and review the Global Hunger Index data. The IFPRI can be contacted here. Any and all suggestions about how to proceed are welcome.

Image: Courtesy IFPRI