Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Hiroyuki Konuma

FAO Regional Representative for Asia-Pacific

He Changchui
Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific
Delivered at

The Workshop On Use Of Major Databases And Their Applications In Support Of
Agricultural And Rural Development Policies

Bangkok, Thailand, 10 - 14 May 2004

Distinguished participants
Ladies and gentlemen,

At the outset, I would like to extend, on behalf of the Director-General of FAO and on my own behalf, our warm welcome to you all to this workshop on Use of Major Databases and their Applications In Support of Agricultural and Rural Development Policies. I also thank experts from ESCAP and ILO for joining this workshop at RAP.

I am pleased to have the opportunity of meeting with colleagues from planning and statistics units in the region. You are well aware that FAO, as the leading Organization in fighting against hunger, needs to make recommendations or to give advice to our decision-makers on international, regional and national issues relating to food and agricultural developments in the region. It is FAO’s firm belief that decisions on policy, strategy and programme on food security and sustainable agriculture development should be supported by timely and reliable statistics and information. Thus, I need not overemphasize the importance in knowing where to look for this information and how to carry out the right types of analysis to support the policy development, monitoring and evaluation processes.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The overarching objective of this week-long workshop is to help bridge the digital divide. There are increasing gaps between the south and the north, the rich and the poor, the information producer and consumer. Further, a syndrome of “information floods, but knowledge hunger” has been observed. The theme of this workshop is therefore to help countries to improve capacity in accessing and using existing databases for formulating and monitoring agricultural and rural development policies. Specifically, the workshop will acquaint participants with some of the commonly accessed databases on the Internet and provide hands-on experience in retrieving and analyzing these data. It will also provide a forum to discuss relevant issues associated with the use and dissemination of food and agricultural statistics in support of national food security concerns and agricultural development programmes.

The Workshop targets both statisticians and data users. We have many statisticians and database managers among the participants, and also specialists in agricultural planning, livestock, crops and fisheries. Through the desired multi-disciplinary interaction during the workshop, it is hoped that we will be able to reach out to these users so that they can benefit adequately from the wealth of information available on the Internet.

Indeed, Internet is full of web sites and many are sources of valuable and comprehensive data and information. Unfortunately, many users have knowledge about only a small number of sites and, in fact, many of us may not even realize the large amount of information and databases that are available on the FAO website outside of FAOSTAT.

Further, once data have been located on the Internet, users often encounter technical difficulties in effectively using these data in the day to-day decision–making process. A wide range of users, in many cases, do not realize that it may only be necessary to convert standardized units to local units after downloading the data; in others, some type of analysis may be required before the data can be applied. During the next few days you will be given an opportunity to see – and to practice – both options.

Ladies and gentlemen,

There are also other technical matters which deserve the close attention of this workshop. You are aware that one of the objectives of website developers is to supply as much information as possible in a comprehensive and concise manner, but all are constrained by the limitations of time and space. During a quick look at websites related to statistics, we noted that many fail to provide accurate metadata about the statistics on the site. It is easy to fall into the trap of believing that all data on the Internet are accurate. The reliability of information is a key issue and one should confirm the source and reference period of the data before using them in important analyses. One should also note that it may not be possible to make valid comparisons of data obtained from more than one web site.

The FAO Statistics Division is undertaking a major project in cooperation with all technical divisions that maintain one or more databases in FAOSTAT. By the end of the project, in December 2005, it is expected that the FAOSTAT database will have an expanded scope (number of data items covered) with improved quality. Data flow between the countries and FAO is also expected to be much improved and better methods will be available to process the data received from member countries. This project has been accorded very high priority by the FAO Senior Management and the Governing Bodies. I hope that your experiences and feedback can give us guidance about issues and procedures that should be considered as modifications are made to improve the presentation and completeness of statistics not only in FAO databases, but also in others.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me again reiterate my pleasure that you have been nominated to participate in this workshop. Given the opportunity FAO would like to learn more about your experience in the decision-making process and your suggestions about how FAO can best provide both direct technical assistance and training for your organizations in the field of food and agricultural statistics. I believe that at the end of the workshop, you will have much better knowledge about the access to, and the use of, multiple databases on the Internet for decision-making through practicing procedures and techniques introduced during the next five days.

As an outcome of the workshop, it is hoped that enhanced capacity will be available to countries in the region for data collection, information access, and decision making in agriculture by policy makers, managers and agricultural service providers in the public and private sectors. Please rest assured that FAO will continue to work with you and other partners to enable member states to frame appropriate policies and ensure efficient support services and enterprise development, with the ultimate objective to achieve our goal of a hunger-free Asia.

Best wishes for a productive and successful week in Bangkok.