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Press Release 97/3

Agricultural census underway in China


BANGKOK, 30 January - China has begun its first national census of agriculture with some 6 million trained counters travelling throughout the country to interview around 300 million agricultural households, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports.

The multi-million dollar Chinese government project is receiving technical support by FAO and financial aid from the Italian government. The first results from the world's largest ever agricultural census will be published by mid-1998, according to FAO.

Farmers are being asked to answer questions on more than 500 items, such as agricultural production, types of crops grown, irrigation, farm and non-farm-labour, use of technology, fertilisers and pesticides, harvested area, livestock, fisheries and forestry. From February on, the data will be processed at 335 computer centres by more than 10,000 nationally recruited trainees. Finally, the results will be analysed by the new Food and Agricultural Statistics Centre in Beijing.

The census will help China improve its agrarian data significantly, according to FAO. Collecting key data became a major problem for Chinese authorities following sweeping agrarian reforms in 1978. "Before it was the job of 70, 000 communes to produce annual production figures and other data. After the reform, the Chinese government had to deal with millions of households which complicated the collection of data enormously," said Odell Larson, Chief of FAO's Statistical Development Service.

In the past China based its data on agriculture mainly on sample surveys and estimates, which gave only an incomplete picture. "The first farm-to-farm survey of Chinese agriculture will be a snapshot of the current situation at local, provincial and national levels. It will help China with its more than 800 million rural people, to have a better understanding of where, what and how much food its farmers are producing," Larson added.

"The new data will be vital for China to provide food security for its more than 1.2 billion people and for assessing the future need for such key inputs as seeds, fertilisers and machinery," he said. "One of the important advantages is that China will be able to develop a data collection system to keep track of shifts in production and important trends on a yearly basis using the census as a base." The census will also allow comparison with other countries.

The Italian government has contributed $ 17 million towards China's first agricultural census. Data collection began 1 January and is expected to be completed by the end of the month.


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