IOTA is a hybridized multi-regional input-output (MRIO) model. “Input-output” refers to the economic data underlying the MRIO model: both the inputs required by different economic sectors and the outputs that they produce, capturing all the activities of an economy at an aggregate level. “Multi-regional” refers to the fact that IOTA contains data for countries or groups of countries around the world, making it possible to trace movements and interactions at the global level.

Using national trade data, MRIO models capture the financial flows between different economic sectors, so that even transactions for commodities that are used during production – such as animal feed – or commodities that undergo many levels of processing, can still be linked from the source to the final product consumed.

Along with this model of economic interactions, IOTA includes a database of production in physical units (levels of detail vary, depending on what production and trade data are available). Hybridizing the financial and physical data allows IOTA to approximate the flows of physical resources along supply chains corresponding to the financial inputs and outputs.

IOTA currently includes data for:

  • More than 150 agricultural commodities related to consumer items and crops extensively grown for fodder and food processing, including: bananas, cocoa, coffee, sugarcane, soybean, oil palm fruit, paddy rice, cotton and wheat;
  • Other commodities such as roundwood and bauxite (aluminium ore);
  • 236 countries of production;
  • 140 regions of consumption;
  • 57 economic sectors;
  • Various resource inputs or environmental extensions, including land area; water (green, blue and grey water), carbon dioxide emissions, and nitrogen use, all expressed in relevant physical units;
  • Contextual information by producer country, including a water scarcity index, data from the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the Bird Life Index , IUCN Key Biodiversity Areas, Alliance for Zero Extinction Sites and WWF Ecoregion information.

IOTA was originally developed within a project for the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). It has the potential for significant expansion in resource inputs and environmental pressures to yield even more comprehensive and nuanced analysis.