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Overview of the original data

FAOSTAT (Food and Agriculture Organization Corporate Statistical Database) provides free access to food and agriculture data from 1961 to the most recent year available.

The data is distributed among different domains, each one with a unique dataset code (e.g. qcl). We create a new dataset (named, e.g. faostat_qcl) for each domain, although we are not including all FAOSTAT domains, only the ones listed below in section Output datasets.

The main data from each domain is downloaded as a file. The location of each file and the date of their latest update is found by querying this catalog. Further (additional) metadata for each domain is downloaded using an API. The process to ingest data and metadata is carried out by this script.

Each FAO dataset is typically given as a long table with the following columns:

  • Area Code: Identifier code of the country/region.
  • Area: FAO name of the country/region. It contains countries and continents, but also geographical regions (e.g. Polynesia), and other aggregations (e.g. Developing regions).
  • Item Code: Identifier code for items.
  • Item: Item name (e.g. 'Olive oil').
  • Element Code: Identifier code for element-units. It is possible to find multiple elements with the same element code, if there are multiple units for the same element (e.g. faostat_qcl has element codes 5513 and 5510 for element 'Production', because they have different units, namely 'thousand number' and 'tonnes').
  • Element: Variable measured (e.g. 'Area harvested').
  • Year Code: Identifier code for year. We ignore this field, since it is almost identical to Year, and does not add any information to it.
  • Year: Year. It is given almost always as an integer value. But sometimes (e.g. in the faostat_fs dataset) it is a range of years (e.g. '2010-2012').
  • Unit: Unit of measurement of the specific element (e.g. 'hectares').
  • Value: Actual value of the specific data point.
  • Flag: Short text (e.g. A) informing of the source or of possible issues of a data point. We use these flags only to prioritize data points in cases of ambiguity.

However, there are some datasets with different columns, namely:

  • faostat_fa contains Recipient Country and Recipient Country Code instead of Area and Area Code.
  • Datasets faostat_fa, faostat_fs, and faostat_sdgb contain an additional field called Note, which we disregard.

The data can be manually inspected on their website. The dataset code can be typed on the search bar to select data of a specific domain. Additionally, on their definitions page one can find definitions and standards related to countries/regions, elements, items, units and flags.

Output datasets

Meadow (unprocessed) datasets

List of meadow datasets that are generated, and their titles:

  • faostat_ef: Land, Inputs and Sustainability: Fertilizers indicators.
  • faostat_ei: Climate Change: Emissions intensities.
  • faostat_ek: Land, Inputs and Sustainability: Livestock Patterns.
  • faostat_el: Land, Inputs and Sustainability: Land use indicators.
  • faostat_emn: Land, Inputs and Sustainability: Livestock Manure.
  • faostat_ep: Land, Inputs and Sustainability: Pesticides indicators.
  • faostat_esb: Land, Inputs and Sustainability: Soil nutrient budget.
  • faostat_fa: Discontinued archives and data series: Food Aid Shipments (WFP).
  • faostat_fbs: Food Balances: Food Balances (2010-).
  • faostat_fbsh: Food Balances: Food Balances (-2013, old methodology and population).
  • faostat_fo: Forestry: Forestry Production and Trade.
  • faostat_fs: Food Security and Nutrition: Suite of Food Security Indicators.
  • faostat_gn: Climate Change: Energy Use.
  • faostat_ic: Investment: Credit to Agriculture.
  • faostat_lc: Land, Inputs and Sustainability: Land Cover.
  • faostat_qcl: Production: Crops and livestock products.
  • faostat_qi: Production: Production Indices.
  • faostat_qv: Production: Value of Agricultural Production.
  • faostat_rfb: Land, Inputs and Sustainability: Fertilizers by Product.
  • faostat_rfn: Land, Inputs and Sustainability: Fertilizers by Nutrient.
  • faostat_rl: Land, Inputs and Sustainability: Land Use.
  • faostat_rp: Land, Inputs and Sustainability: Pesticides Use.
  • faostat_rt: Land, Inputs and Sustainability: Pesticides Trade.
  • faostat_scl: Food Balances: Supply Utilization Accounts.
  • faostat_sdgb: SDG Indicators: SDG Indicators.
  • faostat_tcl: Trade: Crops and livestock products.
  • faostat_ti: Trade: Trade Indices.
  • faostat_wcad: World Census of Agriculture: Structural data from agricultural censuses.

Each dataset faostat_* contains only one table:

  • faostat_*: Raw data in long format.
    • Indexes:
      • year: Year (usually an integer, but sometimes a range, e.g. '2010-2012').
      • element_code: FAO element code.
      • item_code: FAO item code.
      • area_code: FAO country/region code.
  • Columns: * area: FAO country/region name. * item: FAO item name. * element: FAO element name. * unit: FAO unit name (a short name). * value: Data value. * flag: Flag for current data point.

Exceptionally, some datasets have different column names:

  • faostat_fa contains recipient_country_code instead of area_code in the index, and column recipient_country instead of area. Also, faostat_wcad has columns wca_round and census_year instead of year.

There is an additional dataset:

  • faostat_metadata: FAOSTAT (additional) metadata dataset (originally ingested using the FAOSTAT API). This dataset contains as many tables as domain-categories (e.g. 'faostat_qcl_area', 'faostat_fbs_item', ...). All categories are defined in category_structure in the meadow step file.

Garden (processed) datasets

The list of garden datasets is identical to the list of meadow datasets, except for the following changes:

  • Datasets faostat_fbsh and faostat_fbs are not present.
  • faostat_fbsc: Food Balances Combined. This dataset is the combination of faostat_fbsh and faostat_fbs.
  • faostat_food_explorer: Dataset that generates the data that is ingested by the food explorer step (see below). It uses data from the faostat_fbsc and faostat_qcl garden datasets.
  • faostat_metadata: This dataset mainly feeds from the meadow faostat_metadata, but it also loads the custom_* files, and each individual meadow dataset.

All datasets faostat_* (except faostat_metadata) contain two tables:

  • faostat_*: Processed data in long format.
    • Indexes:
      • area_code: Area code (identical to the original FAO area code).
      • year: Year.
      • item_code: Harmonized item code.
      • element_code: Harmonized element code.
    • Columns:
      • country: Harmonized country/region name.
      • fao_country: Original FAO country/region name.
      • item: Customized item name.
      • fao_item: Original FAO item name.
      • element: Customized element name.
      • fao_element: Original FAO element name. This is only meaningful if the variable existed in the original dataset; for example, OWID-generated per-capita variables did not exist in the original dataset, therefore their fao_element is irrelevant.
      • unit: Customized unit name (long version).
      • unit short name: Customized unit name (short version).
      • fao_unit_short_name: Original FAO unit name (short version).
      • item_description: Customized item description.
      • element_description: Customized element description.
      • flag: Original FAO flag (with some modifications).
      • population_with_data: Population of a country, or, for aggregate regions, the population of countries in the region for which there was data to aggregate.
      • value: Actual data value.
  • faostat_*_flat: Flattened table in wide format.
    • Indexes:
      • country: Harmonized country/region name.
      • year: Year.
    • Columns: As many columns as combinations of harmonized element codes and harmonized item codes (plus an additional column for area code).

The faostat_metadata contains the following tables:

  • countries: Metadata related to countries/regions.
    • Indexes:
      • area_code: Area code.
    • Columns:
      • fao_country: Original FAO country/region name.
      • country: Harmonized country/region name.
      • members: Members of each country/region, if any (e.g. the list of members for 'Europe' will contain the harmonized names of all current European countries).
  • datasets: Metadata related to dataset titles and descriptions.
    • Indexes:
      • dataset: Dataset short name.
    • Columns:
      • fao_dataset_title: Original FAO title for the dataset.
      • owid_dataset_title: Customized dataset title.
      • fao_dataset_description: Original FAO dataset description.
      • owid_dataset_description: Customized dataset description.
  • elements: Metadata related to elements and units.
    • Indexes:
    • element_code: Harmonized element code.
    • Columns:
      • dataset: dataset short name.
      • element: Customized element name.
      • fao_element: Original FAO element name.
      • element_description: Customized element description.
      • fao_element_description: Original FAO element description.
      • unit: Customized unit name (long version).
      • fao_unit: Original FAO unit name (long version).
      • unit_short_name: Customized unit name (short version).
      • fao_unit_short_name: Original FAO unit (short version).
      • owid_unit_factor: Factor by which data should be multiplied to.
      • owid_aggregation: Type of aggregation to do to construct regions.
      • was_per_capita: 1 if a particular element was given per capita in the original data (0 otherwise).
      • make_per_capita: 1 to construct a per-capita element for a given element (0 otherwise).
  • items: Metadata related to items.
    • Indexes:
      • item_code: Harmonized item code.
    • Columns:
      • dataset: Dataset short name.
      • item: Customized item name.
      • fao_item: Original FAO name.
      • item_description: Customized item description.
      • fao_item_description: Original FAO item description.


Using data from garden, we create an additional dataset in the explorers channel:

  • food_explorer: Global food explorer. It loads the data from the garden faostat_food_explorer (although not all of its data is used), but, instead of containing a big table with all products, each individual product is stored as a csv file. This data, stored in S3, is the one that feeds our Global food explorer.

Workflow to keep data up-to-date

These are the steps OWID follows to ensure that FAOSTAT data is up-to-date, or to update one or more datasets for which there is new data (let us call the new dataset version to be created YYYY-MM-DD):

  1. Activate the etl poetry environment (from the root folder of the etl repository):
      poetry shell
  2. Execute the ingestion script, to fetch data for any dataset that may have been updated in FAOSTAT. If no dataset requires an update, the workflow stops here.


    This can be executed with the -r flag to simply check for updates without writing anything.

    python etl/scripts/faostat/
  3. Create new meadow steps.

    python etl/scripts/faostat/ -c meadow
    3. Run the new etl meadow steps, to generate the meadow datasets.

    etl meadow/faostat/YYYY-MM-DD
  4. Create new garden steps.

    python etl/scripts/faostat/ -c garden
  5. Run the new etl garden steps, to generate the garden datasets.

    etl garden/faostat/YYYY-MM-DD

    Optionally, set INSPECT_ANOMALIES=True, to visualize if anomalies that were detected in the previous version of the data are still present in the current version.

    INSPECT_ANOMALIES=True etl garden/faostat/YYYY-MM-DD
  6. Inspect and update any possible changes of dataset/item/element/unit names and descriptions.

    python etl/scripts/faostat/
  7. Create new grapher steps.

    python etl/scripts/faostat/ -c grapher
  8. Run the new etl grapher steps, to generate the grapher charts.

    etl faostat/YYYY-MM-DD --grapher
  9. Generate chart revisions (showing a chart using an old version of a variable and the same chart using the new version) for each dataset, to replace variables of a dataset from its second latest version to its latest version.

    python etl/scripts/faostat/ -e


    This step may raise errors (because of limitations in our chart revision tool). If so, continue to the next step and come back to this one again. Keep repeating these two steps until there are no more errors (which may happen after two iterations).

  10. Use OWID's internal approval tool to visually inspect changes between the old and new versions of updated charts, and accept or reject changes.

  11. Create a new explorers step. For the moment, this has to be done manually:

    • Duplicate the latest step in etl/etl/steps/data/explorers/faostat/ and use the current date as the new version.
    • Duplicate entry of explorers step in the dag, and replace versions (of the step itself and its dependencies) by the corresponding latest versions.
  12. Run the new etl explorers step, to generate the csv files for the global food explorer.

    etl explorers/faostat/YYYY-MM-DD/food_explorer

    Run internal sanity checks on the generated files.

  13. Manually create a new garden dataset of additional variables additional_variables for the new version, and update its metadata. Then create a new grapher dataset too. !!! note

    In the future this could be handled automatically by one of the existing scripts.
  14. Archive unnecessary DB datasets, and move old, unnecessary etl steps in the dag to the archive dag.

    python etl/scripts/faostat/ -e


    This step may needs to be run several times, since archiving of steps currently needs to be done manually.

Workflow to make changes to a dataset

Removing outliers

If a new outlier in a dataset is detected, it can be added to detected_outliers.json in the latest garden version folder. Then run again the corresponding etl step.

Adding or removing a domain

To add or remove a new domain, in principle it should be enough to add or remove its dataset code from the INCLUDED_DATASETS_CODES list in etl/scripts/faostat/ With this change, the next time that script is executed, it will only search for updates for the new list of datasets. And then, the should only create steps for datasets (among those in the new lists) that have been updated.


This workflow will add or remove a dataset from a new version. To add or remove a dataset from the current version, the dataset needs to be manually added or removed from the dag, and the appropriate step files need to be created or removed from the meadow, garden or grapher step folders.

Customizing individual fields in a dataset

To customize a certain field (e.g. an element description) of a dataset: 1. Edit the custom_*.csv file in the latest garden folder. 2. Copy the garden step files of the affected datasets (the ones that were customized) to the latest garden folder, if they are not already in the latest version folder. 3. Force the execution of the garden faostat_metadata step, and of the affected garden datasets.


The current workflow will create a new version folder of steps if at least one dataset has been updated. When this happens, the common files (e.g. module, or the custom_*.csv files) will be copied from the previous onto the new folder. This implies that:

  • If something has to be changed in (for example, if a bug has been detected, or if a new feature is introduced), that file should be edited in all relevant versions (i.e. the ones that are the latest version of at least one dataset). Alternatively, consider creating a new folder with all datasets (even those that were not updated). This can be achieved using the -a flag of the create_new_steps script.
  • If the previous point happens often and becomes inconvenient, we could consider using the -a flag on every update. The downside of this approach is that we would be creating many datasets that are identical to their previous versions.

Customizing datasets

To customize the title or description of a dataset, edit the custom_datasets.csv file in the latest garden folder, which contains the following columns:

  • dataset: Dataset short name (e.g. faostat_qcl).
  • fao_dataset_title: Dataset title in the original FAOSTAT data.
  • owid_dataset_title: Customized dataset title.
  • fao_dataset_description: Dataset description in the original FAOSTAT data.
  • owid_dataset_description: Customized dataset description.


  • The fao_* columns should only be customized if the titles or descriptions in the original FAOSTAT data have changed.
  • In the custom_datasets.csv file, all datasets are included (unlike other custom_*.csv files, where only customized fields are included).
  • Any empty owid_* field in the file will be assumed to be replaced with its corresponding fao_* field.

Customizing item names and descriptions

To customize the name or description of an item, edit the custom_items.csv file in the latest garden folder, which contains the following columns:

  • dataset: Dataset short name (e.g. faostat_qcl).
  • item_code: FAOSTAT item code (after OWID harmonization).
  • fao_item: Original FAOSTAT item name.
  • owid_item: Customized item name.
  • fao_item_description: Original FAOSTAT item description. This field is sometimes missing.
  • owid_item_description: Customized item description.


  • In the custom_items.csv files, for convenience, only fields that have been customized are included.
  • Any empty owid_* field in the file will be assumed to be replaced with its corresponding fao_* field.

Customizing element and unit names and descriptions

To customize various aspects of elements and units, edit the custom_elements_and_units.csv file in the latest garden folder, which contains the following columns:

  • dataset: Dataset short name (e.g. faostat_qcl).
  • element_code: FAOSTAT element code (after OWID harmonization).
  • fao_element: Original FAOSTAT element name.
  • owid_element: Customized element name.
  • fao_unit: Original FAOSTAT unit name (long version, e.g. hectares). This field is originally taken from the (additional) metadata, where it is considered a unit description (not a name). However, they are usually long versions of the name, not detailed descriptions. When this field is missing (because it was not returned by the API) the corresponding value from fao_unit_short_name will be taken (which is always given).
  • fao_unit_short_name: Original FAOSTAT unit name (short version, e.g. ha). This field is originally taken from the actual data file of a dataset, where it is the unit name itself. But, since it is usually short (in contrast to the unit description above), we use this field for the abbreviation of the unit. This field is always given.
  • owid_unit: Customized unit name (long version).
  • owid_unit_short_name: Customized unit name (short version).
  • owid_unit_factor: This is the number that will be multiplied to all values of the corresponding element-unit.
  • fao_element_description: Original FAOSTAT element description. This field is sometimes missing.
  • owid_element_description: Customized element description.
  • owid_aggregation: Operation to apply to the data when creating region aggregates. It is either empty or it determines the operation to perform when aggregating (e.g. sum or mean). If this is empty, the element will not be present in region aggregates (meaning continents and income groups will miss this element). If it is sum, the values of the elements of the members of the region will be added together for each year.
  • was_per_capita: 1 if the original element was given per capita, 0 otherwise. If it is 1, it will be multiplied by the population given by FAOSTAT (if this population is given, otherwise the execution of the corresponding garden step will raise an assertion error, in which case the variable should be kept as per-capita).
  • make_per_capita: 1 to create an additional per-capita element, 0 otherwise. If it is 1, the element will be divided by the OWID population. The element code of the new variable will be the same as the original element code, but with the letters pc prepended (e.g. the per-capita variable of the original element with code 001234 will be pc1234).


  • If a unit factor is applied, consider changing the unit names appropriately. For example, when multiplying by 1000, change the unit name from thousand tonnes to tonnes.
  • When making was_per_capita 1, the unit name should be changed accordingly from, e.g. grams per capita to grams.
  • In the custom_elements_and_units.csv file, for convenience, only fields that have been customized are included.
  • Any empty owid_* field in the file will be assumed to be replaced with its corresponding fao_* field.

Data harmonization

In the garden steps, several fields are harmonized.

Harmonization of year

Normally, year is just an integer (e.g. 2010, as expected). But sometimes it is given as a range of exactly 2 years (e.g. '2010-2012'). When this happens, we replace this range by the intermediate year (e.g. 2011).

Harmonization of country name

In the latest garden step, there should always be a file called faostat.countries.json, which contains a mapping from FAO names to OWID names. Of the hundreds of countries and regions in the FAOSTAT datasets:

  • Some countries/regions are ignored (e.g. 'FAO Major Fishing Area'). They simply do not appear in our mapping, or in the output data.

  • Some countries/regions are mapped to OWID harmonized country names (e.g. "Viet Nam": "Vietnam").

    • Countries whose names are already harmonized OWID country names are also included in the mapping (e.g. "Uganda": "Uganda").
  • Some countries/regions for which there is no OWID harmonized name are kept the same, but with * (FAO) at the end of the name (e.g. "Developing regions": "Developing regions (FAO)").

    • The same happens to continents: We create our own region aggregates (e.g. Africa), but want to keep the original FAO aggregates for comparison (e.g. "Africa": "Africa (FAO)").


    • FAO defines China as the aggregate of Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan. For consistency with OWID's common definition of China (which is Mainland China), we map:
      • "China": "China (FAO)".
      • "China, Hong Kong SAR": "Hong Kong".
      • "China, Macao SAR": "Macao".
      • "China, Taiwan Province of": "Taiwan".
      • "China, mainland": "China".
    • As a justification for this mapping, we can see the following example: For item Fats, Animals, Raw and element Feed, dataset faostat_fbs has data for Taiwan, but not for Hong Kong, Macao, or Mainland China. Therefore, FAO's definition of China is showing only Taiwan's data. In such a case it seems more appropriate to simply have no data for China, and keep the data for Taiwan as a separate entity.
    • Dataset faostat_fa does not include any of the previous countries, but only "China (excluding Hong Kong & Macao)". We do the mapping "China (excluding Hong Kong & Macao)": "China", although it is unclear whether Taiwan is included. Therefore, for this dataset, we may be including Taiwan's data as part of China (which would be inconsistent with other datasets).

Harmonization of item code

Most FAOSTAT datasets have items identified by a simple integer number (e.g. item code 15 corresponds to item Wheat).

Although for the same item code one can find slightly different item names in different datasets, they seem to always refer to the same product. For example, item code 27 has FAO item name Rice, paddy in datasets faostat_ei, faostat_qcl, faostat_qi, and faostat_tcl, but item name Rice in dataset faostat_qv.

To be able to accommodate the numerical item codes of faostat_scl and the default item code, we convert item codes of all datasets to a string of 8 characters (e.g. 15 becomes "00000015"). This number of characters is defined by N_CHARACTERS_ITEM_CODE in the module of the garden folder.

Harmonization of element code

We have not identified issues with element codes like those in item codes. However, for consistency (and just in case similar issues occur in the future), we also convert element codes into strings of 6 digits (e.g. 1234 -> '001234'). This number of characters is defined by N_CHARACTERS_ELEMENT_CODE in the module of the garden folder.