Photo credit: Alan D. Coogan / Flickr

It may get stuck in your junk folder, confused with a tin of mysterious food, or buried in a Google search (try adding a few more key terms), but for now the name sticks (and sticks in your memory); SPAM (Spatial Production Allocation Model) is not getting a new name anytime soon. That’s just one of the items key players discussed at a recent SPAM workshop.


6-7 June, Washington DC. The SPAM team, including HarvestChoice, recently convened at IFPRI headquarters to accomplish two main goals:

  • Share latest SPAM results and discuss methods for better timeliness and quality of the gridded crop production surfaces generated by SPAM
  • Explore opportunities to establish an international Community of Practice (CoP) among institutions and individuals interested in fine-resolution SPAM-like products

SPAM players:

(Can you find the Spam in the SPAM?)

Characterizing global production systems in terms of species, space, production, and time is a formidable task. Data-poor countries, ground-truthing, suitability constraints on crop performance, blurry interpretations and definitions of production systems … these are just some of the challenges faced when tasked with describing the ‘where, what and how-much’ of agricultural systems around the globe. Although a seemingly never-ending challenge to ‘perfect’ and update, SPAM results have been widely used within and outside IFPRI and continue to be a robust resource for gridded crop production statistics (for more information about SPAM please visit or contact HarvestChoice).

And still the need for ‘more’ continues. Along with a discussion of technical and logistical challenges, workshop participants also identified promising avenues for improvement. For example, high-resolution remote sensing is advancing at a rapid pace and could help in ground-truthing and model validation. SPAM could leverage data from household surveys to fill gaps or supplement existing data. Time variables and livestock allocation, missing in the current version of SPAM, would also boost the information power of SPAM, and are under construction.

What’s next for SPAM?

  • The release of SPAM2005! Beta results are now shared internally and will be publicly available in the coming months. Stay tuned!
  • Country Case Studies. By zooming in on a few focus countries, SPAM scientists can calibrate and improve spatially explicit agricultural data through ground truthing and household survey data. The learning experience could spill over to improve SPAM data and applications in other countries.
  • Combine livestock and crop mapping. Joint crop and livestock allocation at the level of grid cell better captures the complexity of many smallholder farms by integrating the crop-feed-livestock-manure cycle.
  • Develop a road map of activities and outputs of the proposed CoP. Ideally the SPAM community will broaden to involve many stakeholders including national partners and governments, and enable data sharing and exchange of information, channel standardized feedback, and implement best practices of data quality and validation at multiple scales.

For more information about SPAM, please visit or contact HarvestChoice.


HarvestChoice, 2013. "Global Production System Characterization: SPAM and Beyond." International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, DC., and University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN. Available online at

Aug 15, 2013