Photo Credit: Neil Palmer / CIAT

Administrative units are a convenient way to segment or divide a country for purposes of governing as well as generating analyses and statistics that capture the heterogeneity of resources and populations across a landscape. Our goal for the Spatial Production Allocation Model (SPAM) is to secure crop production statistics for at least the most important crops at sub-national level 1 (regions, states, or provinces), but preferably at level 2 (municipalities, counties, or districts). Here is where NUTS come in and we’re not talking beetle, cashew, ground, or coconuts for that matter, rather this refers to the Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics (NUTS - from the French Nomenclature des Unités territoriales statistiques, otherwise the acronym would be NTUS and that’s just … nuts.).

Within the European Union they have switched from administrative entities as the unit of statistical reporting for each country to sub-divisions. NUTS also comes at various levels (1, 2, 3, 4, etc) and aims to define units which are comparable among countries in terms of the population size found within each level. Until recently we had no idea that people live in nuts!

NUTS-1 = 3 to 7 million inhabitants/major socio-economic regions
NUTS-2 = 800,000 to 3 million inhabitants/basic regions for the application of regional policies
NUTS-3 = 150,000 to 800,000 inhabitants/small regions for specific diagnoses

These are rather approximate numbers and some NUTS of the same level may differ considerably in size.

What does this have to do with HarvestChoice? Its product, SPAM, is a global dataset and used as the underlying data for global trade models, for example, where such data is important not just for sub-Saharan Africa (our usual geographical focus), but globally. Part of SPAM's job is to provide a more nuanced and accurate representation of where crops grow in a country, be it the whole country or any of its administrative units (or NUTS). And an important tool to show these results is a digital map of the country. Typically these maps have country and administrative unit boundaries. Our new statistics have NUTS boundaries, and for SPAM (and other models working with statistics) it is necessary to understand the relationship between administrative units and NUTS, at all levels.

So far we have tackled the current 27 EU countries and found several different patterns depending on the country:

  • Some whole countries, with all its administrative level 1 and level 2 units, is one big NUTS (no offense); for example, Cyprus and Montenegro
  • For some, each level 1 administrative unit maps one to one into NUTS-1 (e.g. states in Germany) or another NUTS level (e.g. states in Belgium)
  • Several level 1 administrative units in a country make up 1 NUTS (e.g. Rumania)
  • Several level 1 administrative units in a country make up 1 NUTS, with the exception of a few level 2 units which belong to a different NUTS (e.g. in Portugal all level 2 units in Guarda belong to NUTS Centro (PT) except for Vila Nova de Foz Coa which belongs to NUTS Norte).

There’s no real magic to this, but it needs data assembly and codification. For our use in SPAM and maybe your benefit as well, we have assembled such a table for 16 countries (present and candidate EU members which do not have one to one matching of administrative units and NUTS), using the GAUL 2008 V2 administrative units classification.

If you are interested, feel free to download the table NUTS_GAUL2008_EU.xlsx. Much more detailed information on NUTS can be found on the Eurostat website HERE and HERE.

Eurostat makes agricultural statistics available at different NUTS levels, depending on the country. Those statistics are not provided at administrative levels anymore, although as mentioned above, NUTS and administrative levels sometimes coincide.

Now, who’s hungry for nuts?



HarvestChoice, 2014. "Going NUTS about Statistics." International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, DC., and University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN. Available online at

Jul 22, 2014