Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Hiroyuki Konuma

FAO Regional Representative for Asia-Pacific

STATEMENT
by
He Changchui
Assistant Director-General and
Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific

Delivered at the

Twenty-first Session of the Asia and Pacific Commission on Agricultural Statistics

Phuket, Thailand, 11-15 September 2006




Mr Chairman,
Your Excellency, Minister for Information and Communication Technology,
Distinguished delegates and dignitaries,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to welcome you all, on behalf of the Director-General of FAO and on my personal behalf, to this Twenty-first session of the Asia and Pacific Commission on Agricultural Statistics (APCAS).

I am grateful to the Royal Government of Thailand for taking keen interest in the work of the Commission, for hosting this session and for providing excellent facilities and an environment conducive to fruitful and productive discussions.  I am personally grateful to you, Your Excellency, for sparing valuable time to inaugurate this 21st Session of APCAS.  I note that this is not the first time that the Commission is benefiting from the hospitality of the Government of Thailand. During the last four decades of the Commission’s existence, this is the fourth Session of the Commission held in Thailand, including those hosted by the Government of Thailand.

I am particularly delighted that some 60 delegates from 20 member countries are attending the meeting, together with observers from international institutions interested in the work of FAO. I am thankful to the Governments of member countries for taking keen interest in the work of the Commission and for sending their delegates. As the demands for reliable food and agricultural statistics are ever increasing and the need to collect data on newer and more complex areas is becoming more prominent, sharing of experience between member countries becomes important for minimizing the duplication of efforts and for enhancing knowledge networking. I am happy to note from the Agenda that countries, including Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand, will be presenting their experiences and initiatives to other member countries during the course of this Session.

Ladies and gentlemen,

At the first World Food Summit (WFS) in 1996 world leaders made a global commitment to reduce by half the number of hungry people in the world by 2015. The commitment to the cause of providing food security was reiterated at the 2000 United Nations Millennium Summit. The situation still demands that we accelerate progress towards meeting the WFS goals, as resolved by world leaders at the 2002 World Food Summit: five years later.

The provisional estimates made by FAO for the year 2001–03 indicate that more than 820 million people in the developing world are undernourished. This does not represent a significant improvement compared to the situation prevailing at the time of the WFS. However, in terms of prevalence of hunger, we have witnessed an improvement in the developing countries during the last decade, particularly in this region where the percentage has fallen from 20 to 16 percent.

On the food production side, increasing globalization of economies in the world, and in particular in the Asian countries, is leading to a structural transformation of the agriculture sector in many countries. Diversion of agricultural land for urban and industrial purposes, degradation of existing agricultural land, a sinking water table in some areas, land affected by water-logging, and inadequate and inappropriate use of fertilizers and pesticides are causes of concern for policy-makers in many countries of Asia. While making efforts to contain these adverse and often irreversible changes, we need strategies to provide food and nutritional security to the rural population in this region which is largely characterized by subsistence agriculture practised on small holdings in rural areas.

Ladies and gentlemen,

A new vision of sustainable development and agrarian reform is needed: one that responds to the challenges confronting the poorest men and women in rural areas around the globe. This was the issue confronted by representatives from government and civil society organizations who met for the International Conference on Agrarian Reforms and Rural Development (ICARRD) in March 2006, in Porto Alegre, Brazil. About 100 countries signed the declaration and reiterated the importance of traditional and family agriculture, and other small-holder production as well as the roles of rural communities in contributing to food security and the eradication of poverty.

The ICARRD declaration recognized the leadership of FAO and gave us the mandate to adopt appropriate measures to implement the ICARRD decisions. FAO was also expected to evolve a set of reporting guidelines and to identify the indicators to monitor the implementation of the declaration. The statisticians of member countries will have to make their contribution by providing reliable data to achieve this task.

Thus, in my view, the scope of your professional work has further enlarged from mere measurement of agricultural development to gathering reliable data on agrarian reform and rural development which support analyses to facilitate adoption of people-centred approaches. You will get an opportunity to discuss this subject during the session on “Statistics on Rural Household’s Livelihood and Well-being”.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This is the first meeting of the Commission after the launch by FAO in 2005 of the World Programme for the Census of Agriculture 2010 (WCA 2010), the ninth in the series. The new programme will be useful to those countries which plan to conduct their national censuses during the decade 2006–2015. FAO has already held a round-table meeting for the statisticians of this region to make them aware of the new features of this programme.

The new FAO World Programme for the Census of Agriculture has added “Monitoring of MDGs” as one new objective of agricultural census. You will also note from the document on WCA 2010, available here, that the scope of the Programme has been enlarged to cover a wide variety of new themes. It is expected that the modular approach to planning of censuses and surveys advocated in this programme will allow countries to collect data on a variety of subjects in an integrated and cost-effective manner.

It is professionally satisfying to note that the document on WCA 2010 shows us a way to enlarge the scope of the agricultural census to cover various dimensions of rural life. A new dimension of community-level data has been added in the new World Programme for the Census of Agriculture 2010. I hope that the suggestive list of indicators proposed under this component of agricultural census will help you plan your data collection efforts better, contributing thereby to the process of rural development.

A few papers will be discussed on the agenda items related to this WCA 2010, including statistics on aquaculture which is very important in this region.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In order to facilitate wider analysis and utilization of available data and its effective use in the process of policy formulation, it is important to create – at the national and subnational levels – statistical databases with common data structures and compatible software so that communication and exchange is possible, not only between the producers of agricultural statistics but also between users and producers of statistics.

I am pleased to inform you that FAO has launched the new FAOSTAT just two months ago. FAOSTAT, which is currently the world’s largest and most comprehensive statistical database on food and agriculture, has been redeveloped to better serve the users. It is gratifying to note that the FAOSTAT site receives over 10 000 hits daily and over 10 million records are downloaded every day.

Along with FAOSTAT, a new country-level version, CountrySTAT, has been developed and piloted in some countries. The product will offer a two-way bridge between national and international statistics on food and agriculture and will facilitate integration of efforts of several data producers within a country.

I see from the Timetable that the topic “The new release of FAOSTAT and developments in CountrySTAT” and the “Experience of the Philippines in implementing CountrySTAT”, are going to be presented and discussed during the meeting. I invite you all to be aware of the capabilities of these systems and take full advantage of the availability of these products in the statistical systems of your respective countries.

I would like to mention that the work done under the Japan-assisted project on development of Regional Data Exchange System (RDES) has been catalytic. FAO greatly appreciates the continued support from Japan in strengthening agricultural statistics systems in the region, and in further increasing the analytical capacities in the countries. The progress made by this project will be discussed in detail during the Session. I am also glad that an experience undertaken under another Japan-funded project on “Identification of Areas and Populations Vulnerable to Food Insecurity” will be presented at this Meeting.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

There will be five important papers presented by delegates from Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand, as I mentioned earlier, reporting on recent developments in agricultural statistics. I am grateful to the authors from these countries for their contributions and willingness to share their countries’ experiences with other members. Special mention is due to Thailand for contributing two documents, one by the National Statistics Office and the other by the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives. I would also like to acknowledge the work done by Bureau of Agricultural Statistics, Philippines in processing and presenting the information provided by countries in FAO metadata questionnaire, in addition to a technical paper,

Ladies and gentlemen,

From the point of view of a user, the quality of data and the information on technical aspects as well as related concepts, definitions, classifications and procedures adopted to produce the data are of paramount importance. However, this aspect of statistics tends to be neglected in many countries.

Realizing the importance of this subject, FAO has taken the initiative to create awareness on this matter and to provide a framework for countries. Apart from laying down the framework for ensuring quality of data collected and disseminated by countries, the Statistics Division of FAO is working to prepare a meta-database on National Agricultural Statistical Systems. For this initiative a beginning has been made with Asian countries. A subregional workshop on metadata is being organized in Manila next month. You will get a chance to appreciate this subject in depth in at least two technical sessions of this meeting.

Ladies and gentlemen,

FAO’s mandate is not just to work on developmental issues. It has played a leading role in reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts for the benefit of people affected by natural calamities. Since the disaster of 26 December 2004, we have led efforts in advising governments on rehabilitation in the fisheries, agriculture and forestry sectors in tsunami affected countries. We have also helped to repair and replace lost and damaged boats and equipment, and to restore damaged farmland and coastal eco-systems.

The contribution of statisticians is also needed in providing data for assessment of damage caused by natural disasters and for planning for mitigation of its effects and long-term rehabilitation. In my view, community-level databases covering several aspects of the life and well-being of the communities will go a long way in this direction. I am happy to note that a round-table discussion on this topic has been included in the Timetable. Ladies and gentlemen,

APCAS has provided strong support for the development of agricultural statistics in the region throughout its 43 years of existence. The Commission works not only to monitor the progress in development of agricultural statistics and takes cognizance of the needs of countries, but it also sets directions for further developments of statistical systems by working as a platform for sharing country initiatives. FAO looks to its member countries in deciding new programme initiatives and for setting priorities in the course of FAO reform. I request that you observe how previous undertakings have been implemented and recommend directions for our future actions. FAO looks to you for this guidance. In turn, I wish to assure you that we at the FAO Regional Office in Bangkok are always ready to extend technical assistance to our member countries to the best of our expert capability, despite any resource limitations.

Finally, let me again convey my sincerest gratitude to the Government of the Kingdom of Thailand for hosting this session of the Commission. I acknowledge the hard work of the secretariat staff from the National Statistics Office and the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives of Thailand in the preparation and organisation of this meeting. I should also like to thank my colleagues from FAO headquarters and the regional office for their technical contributions and managerial efforts for making this meeting valuable and productive.

I wish you all success in your deliberations and a pleasant stay on this beautiful island.

Thank you.