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Latest from the LSMS: New data from Malawi, measuring soil health & food consumption and expenditure in household surveys

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Message from Gero Carletto (Manager, LSMS)

A few weeks ago, I attended a meeting of the Committee for the Coordination of Statistical Activities (CCSA) in Muscat, Oman, where I joined a panel discussion on how global survey initiatives like the LSMS or Multiple Indicators Cluster Survey (MICS) can help us measure and monitor many of the SDG indicators. We also discussed how global initiatives like the UN Statistical Commission’s Inter-Secretariat Working Group on Household Surveys (ISWGHS) can help coordinate these efforts and position the household survey agenda within the global data landscape. Everyone seems to agree that monitoring more than 70 SDG indicators will require high-quality, more frequent, and internationally comparable household surveys. Yet, the narrative on household surveys continues to be lopsided. In my view, this is partly because strengthening traditional data sources like surveys and censuses is seen as outmoded and ineffective when compared with the more glittering promises offered by alternative data sources like Big Data.

At the risk of sounding like a luddite, I believe that it’s important for countries and donors alike to continue investing in household surveys to both validate and add value to new types of data. In many of the countries we work in, leapfrogging to the digital revolution without having gone through an analog evolution may be an ephemeral proposition. This in no way means that we should continue doing things the same way: during the past decade, household surveys have evolved dramatically, increasingly relying on technological innovation and new methods to make survey data cheaper, more accurate, and more policy relevant. Methodological and technological innovation remains at the core of the LSMS’s raison d’être and, together with our partners, we will continue pushing the frontier. Until more robust and fully validated alternatives materialize, household survey critics may want to recall the old saying, “Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em!”



In the field

The second wave of the EAC-I (Enquête Agricole de Conjoncture Intégrée) is underway. First visit interviews were recently completed, and second visit interviews are expected to start at the beginning of December 2017. Field work for a Non-Standard Unit Survey has been completed and the conversion factors and photobook will be available in December 2017. The first wave of the EAC-I is available here.

Burkina Faso

A methodological study on food consumption is underway, comparing two data-collection methods: (1) the methodology of the 2014 Enquête Multisectorielle Continue (EMC) consists of four visits to the households, one in each quarter, to capture seasonality; and (2) the methodology of the LSMS-ISA survey Enquête Harmonisée sur les Conditions de Vie des Ménages 2017/2018 (EHCVM) consists of two visits to the households, one in the post-planting season and one in the post-harvest season. The study is designed to provide information that can be used to understand differences in welfare measurement between the two methodologies. This will allow comparison of the new poverty measures from the EHCVM (implemented in 2018) to the poverty measures calculated using the EMC in 2014.

Coming soon

Data from the Malawi Fourth Integrated Household Survey (IHS4) will be released this month, and will be available in the Microdata Library. The IHS4 was implemented by the Malawi National Statistical Office (NSO) and includes a cross-sectional sample of 12,447 households interviewed over a 12-month period (April 2016–April 2017). In addition, a panel component was tracked; it targeted 1,989 households that were interviewed in 2013 as part of the Integrated Household Panel Survey (IHPS) and that could be traced back to half of the 204 enumeration areas that were originally sampled as part of the Third Integrated Household Survey (IHS3) 2010/11. The panel sample expanded each wave through the tracking of split-off individuals and the new households that they formed. The IHS4 is the first full LSMS-ISA survey implemented using the World Bank Survey Solutions CAPI platform, allowing for a rich dataset composed of household, agriculture, fisheries, community, and individual-level modules to be released within six months of the conclusion of fieldwork.

Kagera Health and Development Survey Passes the 100 Studies Mark

The Kagera Health and Development Survey (KHDS), an LSMS longitudinal survey of households from 1991–2010, has reached an impressive milestone: More than 100 studies have been written using the KHDS! From the baseline in 1991, that’s a ratio of 1:8 papers produced per household interviewed. Here are some of the take-away lessons: First, you never know where the research will go. The KHDS was implemented with the purpose of studying the socioeconomic impact of HIV/AIDS. High-quality and careful data collection on this one specific theme led to research on many other topics not foreseen at the start (such as refugees and migration, thanks to successful tracking). Second, you never know when you will do another round of a panel survey. The KHDS was originally designed for four waves of interviews from 1991–1994. Collecting sufficient contact information and allowing a new team access to it resulted in a fifth wave in 2004. Third, new team members bring new momentum. Expanding the project to new principle investigators and graduate students enabled the fifth and sixth rounds and brought fresh ideas. Fourth, open data opens doors to a lot more research. The KHDS passed the 100 studies mark by putting the data in the public domain with documentation. Much appreciation goes to the respondents who patiently and often eagerly participated in the KHDS, and great thanks to the hard-working field team that made the survey happen.

Food Counts: Measuring Food Consumption and Expenditures in Household Surveys

How much did you eat yesterday? And how much did you spend? On what food products, exactly? And what about last week? These types of questions can be very hard for anyone to answer, yet most analyses of poverty, food security, and nutrition are based on data collected using different variants of these questions. A new Special Issue in the journal Food Policy presents evidence on the impact of survey design choices on the quality and availability of data collected in household consumption and expenditure surveys (HCES). The introduction and a few of the papers in the volume are Open Access.

Image The Dirty Truth: Measuring Soil Health

The newest addition to the LSMS Guidebook series is all about soil – why it matters and how to measure it. Soil health is unarguably important in low-income contexts where agriculture is often the primary means of livelihood. Yet, its highly complex nature complicates measurement. Do subjective farmer assessments of soil health reflect the true state of the soils? Is this the best way by which to collect data on soil health in household surveys?

This Guidebook explores the possibility of integrating relatively new, rapid, low-cost spectral soil analysis methods in household surveys. Founded on the experience and results of two methodological experiments, and conducted in collaboration with the World Agroforestry Centre, the Central Statistical Agency of Ethiopia, and the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, this Guidebook provides survey practitioners with practical guidance on integrating spectral analysis in household surveys, with step-by-step guidance on everything from questionnaire design to soil processing.

Agriculture in Africa: Telling Myths from Facts

Stylized facts set agendas and shape debates. In rapidly changing and data-scarce environments, they also risk being ill informed, outdated, and misleading. So, with higher food prices as a result of the 2008 food crisis, robust economic growth and rapid urbanization, and climatic change, is conventional wisdom about African agriculture and rural livelihoods still accurate? Or is it more akin to myth than fact? The essays in Agriculture in Africa – Telling Myths from Facts aim to set the record straight. They exploit newly gathered, nationally representative, geo-referenced information at the household and plot level, from six African countries. In these new Living Standard Measurement Study-Integrated Surveys on Agriculture, every aspect of farming and non-farming life is queried—from the plots farmers cultivate, the crops they grow, the harvest that is achieved, and the inputs they use, to all the other sources of income they rely on and the risks they face. Together, the surveys cover more than 40 percent of the Sub-Saharan African population. In all, 16 conventional wisdoms are examined, relating to 4 themes: the extent of farmer’s engagement in input, factor, and product markets; the role of off-farm activities; the technology and farming systems used; and the risk environment farmers face. Some striking surprises, in true myth-busting fashion, emerge. And a number of new issues also emerge. The studies bring a more refined, empirically grounded understanding of the complex reality of African agriculture. They also confirm that investing in regular, nationally representative data collection yields high social returns.


C4D2 Training Initiative’s First Workshop

The Center for Development Data (C4D2) conducted its first training on Designing Household Surveys to Measure Poverty, from November 27 to December 1, 2017. Participants included lecturers from regional statistics training institutions from Africa, namely the Eastern African Statistical Training Center (EASTC) and the École Nationale Supérieure De Statistique Et D'économie Appliquée, and members of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, who provide technical guidance on statistical matters to national statistical offices around Africa.

The training was held in the Bank of Italy’s premises in Perugia, Italy, and was facilitated by the World Bank’s C4D2 team in collaboration with the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation, the Italian National Institute of Statistics and the Italian National Institute of Health.

For more information, please contact:

The Global Multi-Tier Measurement of Access to Energy Survey

Fieldwork for the Global Multi-Tier Measurement of Access to Energy Survey, a survey launched by the World Bank to track progress toward Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7, began in September 2017. The LSMS team is providing technical support to the implementation of this nationally representative survey, which will cover a total of 3,658 households, communities, and facilities such as health, education, place of worship, and government offices. The study is being initiated by the World Bank’s Global Practice, Energy and Extractives Sector, and is being facilitated by Probe Market Research Lusaka.

This project is part of a broader World Bank program of technical assistance that will assist the Government of Zambia and other countries in scaling up renewable energy, reducing non-technical losses of power distribution companies and building the capacity of key stakeholders in the energy sector.


LSMS at EAAE 2017

The LSMS team organized two sessions at the XV EAAE Congress: Towards Sustainable Agri-Food Systems: Balancing between Markets and Society, held in Parma, Italy from August 29 to September 1. The first session brought together selected papers from the Food Policy Special Issue on food consumption measurement, as highlighted above. The second session gave voice to the selected studies supported by the UK Aid-funded “Minding the (Agricultural) Data Gap” methodological research program that LSMS has been leading and highlighted our body of work on the measurement of (1) land area, as synthesized in the LSMS Guidebook on the topic, informed by From Guesstimates to GPStimates; Cheaper, Faster, and More Than Good Enough; Missing(ness) in Action; and Mission Impossible?; (2) soil fertility, as captured in the LSMS Guidebook on the topic and in the working paper Collecting the Dirt on Soils; (3) agricultural labor, as disseminated in the working paper Not Your Average Job; and finally (4) crop production and its implications for the inverse scale-productivity relationship in Uganda, as presented in the working paper Could the Debate Be Over?

LSMS at the Inter-Conference Symposium of the International Association of Agricultural Economists (IAAE)

The LSMS team attended the Inter-Conference Symposium of the International Association of Agricultural Economists (IAAE), held in Talca, Chile, from October 17-20. The conference coincided with the 5th Regional Congress of Agricultural Economics and was sponsored by the governments of Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay.

LSMS’s work was featured in three sessions. The first session, “Sustainable Productivity and Public Policies: Synergies to Improve Agricultural Economic Development,” sponsored by the Office of Studies and Agricultural Policies of the Ministry of Agriculture of Chile, provided a platform for sharing experiences in collecting agricultural data in developing countries, as well as sharing lessons learned from LSMS methodological research on the measurement of land area, soil fertility, and agricultural labor. At the second session, “Labor and Productivity,” the team presented findings from its research on agricultural labor measurement in Tanzania and Ghana. In the third panel session on “Poverty, Agriculture and Rural Development,” the team shared its work on data and policy design, including the Agriculture in Africa: Telling Facts from Myths program. Overall, the influence and reach of LSMS work was evidenced by the number of times LSMS data and research were cited throughout the conference.

Staff Spotlight: Amparo Palacios-Lopez, Economist


I have been a part of the LSMS team for the past six years. During this time, I have learned a lot about surveys, country engagement, and how to work in teams in diverse environments. Currently, I am working in several different countries, providing support to national surveys, and/or conducting methodological research to improve agricultural and labor statistics in the country. My favorite part of this work is being able to engage with the countries, learning about their needs and experiences, and working together to create instruments that will bridge the data gaps to inform and design policy.

This year, I have been part of a World Bank team that has supported the efforts of the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZIMSTAT) and the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanization and Irrigation Development (MAMID) in designing and implementing the Agricultural Productivity Module (APM) of the Poverty Income Consumption and Expenditure Survey (PICES 2017).

The work in Zimbabwe has taught me a great deal on how bringing together actors with different expertise and backgrounds can help achieve goals successfully. My work in Tanzania, Ghana, and Malawi, which involves methodological research on labor measurement, has reaffirmed the importance of continuously improving the methods of data collection as well as ensuring data quality. The most fulfilling part of my journey with the LSMS, however, has been working with colleagues who day to day teach me and mentor me, making this the best place to work and develop my skills.


Vini Vaid

Communications Consultant

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