(Item 6 of the Agenda)
54. The strategy for redevelopment of the FAO statistical databases was presented to the Commission in document APCAS/04/06, "FAOSTAT - Redevelopment of the FAO Statistical Database System". The Commission was provided with a brief background about the FAOSTAT statistical system that described the most important features of the system: a major component of FAO's information system; contributing to the Organization's strategic objective of collecting, analyzing, interpreting and disseminating information relating to food, agriculture and nutrition; lies at the core of FAO's World Agricultural Information Centre (WAICENT) through which access is given to FAO's vast store of information on agricultural and food topics; well known product throughout the United Nations as well as statistical and academic worlds; with various primary users both at the national and international level; and supports a subscriber base allowing users to perform bulk data downloads for analytical purposes.
55. The Commission was informed that the FAOSTAT working system had been operational for a decade and had grown old, exhibiting major technical problems, which became progressively worse over time although it was developed using software, tools and statistical methodology that were state-of-the-art industry standards. The Commission noted that there were other issues and problems that should be considered such as a) lack of disaggregated data (gender, agro-environmental indicators, etc.); b) outdated statistical frameworks in some of the key statistical domains in the system; c) issues about the quality of data received from member countries, including incomplete data sets resulting in missing values and inaccurate data or delayed processing of data resulting to outdated data; d) limited availability of technical resources causing difficulty in addressing the emerging new requirements of the data users, which were influenced by the changing or advanced technology; and e) too much concern by the users on the stability of the network and its ability to support their processing needs prompted the developers to run the system in the local PCs without any reliance on the network, thereby causing major performance problems as the application of the system grew and resulting in frequent system crashes due to the limitations of the PC environment.
56. The Commission learned that FAOSTAT developers had attempted to resolve the stability problems over the years, but that many of the problems could not be corrected without affecting major modifications to the system. It was further explained to the Commission that the technical limitations of the system clearly had an impact not only on the stability of the system but also on the types of functions that it could provide to the users.
57. The Commission was advised that the new FAOSTAT system would be designed to meet FAO's Strategic Framework Objective of an integrated information resource base with current, relevant and reliable statistics, information and knowledge made accessible to all FAO clients and would address the technical and non-technical issues and problems through sub-projects that would proceed relatively independently of each other. The Commission also noted that the initial outputs of the project would focus on improvements to the current system and on resolution of the most pressing problems and that the new system functionality would be capable of running on the current FAOSTAT system, thus enabling users to gain early experience with the individual system components before the completion of the integrated system.
58. The FAOSTAT data flow and its modules and functions as well as the project work plan were presented and explained to the Commission. The Commission learned that in 2003 the core frameworks and metadata for the new FAOSTAT were prepared and that, concurrently, methodological revisions on the Working System were undertaken. The Commission was also notified that the new FAOSTAT core and most of the satellite modules would be completed by early 2005 and the delivery of the new FAOSTAT statistical system by the end of 2005.
59. Members of the Commission were concerned about the issue on the quality of data and the Commission recommended that each member country should take the responsibility of producing quality data and should develop a system for checking the quality of the data being produced so that this system would be helpful in evaluating the reliability and accuracy of the data during any extraction, loading, validation or downloading.
60. The Commission welcomed the inclusion of links from FAOSTAT to GEO-NETWORK and other networks that would guide the user in the addition of spatial data to the FAOSTAT databases.
61. When the Commission was reminded about the procedures for collecting and entering data into the FAOSTAT, it was pointed out that the data were collected through questionnaires sent to the focal point(s) identified by the government of each member country and were passed down to an agency or agencies that would fill out the forms before they were returned to the focal point. It was noted that FAO had often provided a supplementary copy directly to the traditional responding agency to improve the timeliness of the country response to the questionnaire, to obtain data that were available and to confirm whether they were official or unofficial data.
62. Accordingly, the Commission was assured that the data for some variables were already available in FAOSTAT for 2003 while some other variables were available only for 2001 or 2002.
63. The Commission agreed that FAOSTAT was beneficial to the member countries and welcomed the new FAOSTAT proposals and developments.