Rabat/Rome -- Improving the quality, availability and relevance of data on food and agriculture has become a key priority as Africa strives to develop more effective policies to tackle its persistent food security problems.
The issue took centre stage as an unprecedented number of experts from 35 countries met for the 23rd session of the African Commission on Agricultural Statistics (AFCAS), an FAO statutory body.
'We need timely, accurate, and reliable statistics to give us a better picture of how agriculture and food security are affected by, and how they impact, economic, environmental and social factors. Ultimately, this kind of information can be used by decision makers to develop policies, programs and investments that improve people's lives,' said Josef Schmidhuber, Deputy Director of the FAO Statistics Division.
About 100 senior statistics officials were set to discuss country experiences with the World Programme for the Census of Agriculture and the rollout of the Global Strategy to Improve Rural and Agricultural Statistics.
They also planned to look at advances in gathering environmental, economic and food security statistics on issues like greenhouse gas emissions, agricultural investments, livestock, and sex disaggregated - or gender related - data for land ownership.
Reliable statistics are vital in tracking both country needs and achievements. For instance, accurate government expenditure data are needed to track country commitments to spend at least 10 percent of total expenditures on agriculture, in keeping with the Maputo Declaration of 2003.
Statistics on government spending show that, so far, only Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Malawi, Mali, Niger and Senegal have met or exceeded the Maputo target.
Tools for better information
'So often, the need for statistics arises on short notice, but it takes time to build the data collection infrastructure and to put a system in place to process and analyze this kind of information. You can't wait until there's a sudden policy demand. You need to build up capacities over time so that you're ready to respond to data needs as they emerge,' Sangita Dubey of the FAO Statistics Division said.
The program for the meeting also included demonstrations of new versions of two information technology platforms for sharing data and analysis - FAOSTAT, which hosts the world's largest repository of agricultural time-series data and allows for quick retrieval, comparisons and analysis of data relating to food and agriculture for some 200 countries; and, CountrySTAT, which integrates information from different national sources and harmonizes them according to international standards and quality requirements.
AFCAS meets every two years to review and identify priorities for the development of national statistical systems in the Africa region.