How Good is Your Data?

When I studied feed manufacturing at Kansas State University’s International Grains Program  I recall a professor who repeated again and again “you can’t control what you can’t measure.”

Bill Gates believes the same: see “My Plan to Fix the World’s Biggest Problems

Mr. Gates cites many examples of how proper measurement changes everything. Cellphone GPS tracking is helping to improve polio immunization in northern Nigeria. In Ethiopia, proper record keeping – part paper and part computerized – is enabling fast response to outbreaks of malaria and measles. In the past, the government didn’t even have a record of a child’s birth or death in rural areas. Now, measurement allows it to track population changes, health status, and so on.

In agriculture, Mr. Gates calls for a global productivity target that would help countries focus on the efficiency and output of hundreds of millions of small farmers who live in poverty. “We should have public scorecards showing how developing-country governments, donors and others are helping those farmers”. Yes!

China Global Advisory, an agribusiness think-tank that works with the China Association of Agricultural Science Societies (CAASS), shows that as incomes of Chinese consumers grow year by year, demand for high quality food is growing in step. Bear in mind that per capita income in China has grown around 10 percent per year over the last decade and is forecast to continue growing by 8 percent each year over the coming decade. This income growth, coupled with an expanding population, is driving China’s increasing demand for food, putting pressure on farmland, water, and agricultural resources across the globe.

CGA points out that incremental protein consumption is highest when income levels are between USD $2,000 and $5,000 per capita. At these income levels, consumers want more food, and more meat and other proteins.

Income & Extra Food Intake (incremental protein)



Source: CGA, CBA, Commonwealth Research

Meat, especially beef, is resource-hungry protein. To produce a kilogram of beef needs 100x more liters of water than a kilogram of wheat. Measured as protein yield per acre of land, wheat can feed 7x more people than beef, despite being lower in protein (12-15%). The humble soybean (35-40% protein) is the world’s most efficient protein source, delivering 256lbs of protein per acre compared to just 20lbs of beef protein.

Land Use Efficiency – Usable protein yield per acre from different foods


Source: USDA; FAO/WHO/UNICEF, Protein Advisory Group (2004)

This information is not new, of course. What has changed, however, is our ability to measure accurately and then base decision-making on real information.

Good data is fundamental to any business. If my knowledge of raw material availability is erroneous or out of date, how can I plan my purchases and business operations for the year ahead? Given raw material shortages in many African countries, do I trust to luck-hearsay and risk having to reduce output and disappoint my customers, or even shut down, because I ran out of raw materials?

A primary task for manufacturers associations in many industries is to collect and share data among members. So how good is your data?

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