Fourth Focal Points Meeting and Technical Consultation
Representatives from 16 countries participating in the project Strengthening Regional Data Exchange on Food and Agricultural Statistics in Asia and the Pacific Countries attended the Fourth Focal Points Meeting held at the Novotel on Siam Square in Bangkok, Thailand, from 5 to 7 October 2005.
There were two senior donor government representatives; four representatives from JICA, one representative from the East Asia Emergency Rice Reserve (EAERR) and two representatives from the Government of Malaysia attended as observers. Annex 2 lists all of the participants.
This fourth meeting of the Focal Points of the FAO regional project GCP/RAS/184/JPN followed previous annual meetings in Thailand in 2004, 2003 and 2002.
The Project Document specified two objectives: (a) phased implementation of the Master Plan for the Regional Data Exchange System (RDES) for food and agricultural statistics, following the concepts formulated by the previous regional project with respect to the transfer of electronic data among countries in the region and FAO; and (b) strengthening national capacity to analyse, use and disseminate food and agricultural statistics in support of national agricultural development policy and planning, including associated food security and poverty alleviation concerns.
To achieve these objectives, the RDES was developed and installed among the participating countries. The meeting focused on a review of the implementation of the RDES, participating countries’ ongoing issues and concerns about the system and their suggestions or recommendations for the RDES to accomplish project objectives more efficiently.
The welcome address (Annex 3) was delivered by Mr Hiroyuki Konuma, Deputy Regional Representative, on behalf of Mr He Changhui, Assistant Director-General and FAO Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific. He said that the main objectives of the project were to implement an electronic-based regional data exchange system for the participating countries and to strengthen national capacity to analyse data on food and agricultural statistics. The project has been extended through 2007 with generous financial contributions from the Government of Japan, for which FAO and the participating countries are grateful.
The United Nations, at its recently concluded 60th General Assembly, recommitted itself to intensifying international efforts and cooperation to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs); slow progress in their implementation has been noted. FAO's latest estimates (2004) showed a decline in the number of hungry people in the Asia-Pacific Region by only 50 million since 1996, an average yearly reduction of six million.
Mr Konuma continued that FAO had always been at the forefront of promoting and providing technical assistance to member countries in establishing and developing strong agricultural statistical systems at the national, sub-regional, regional and global levels. It will soon publish the World Programme for the Census of Agriculture 2010. This is a most important survey to obtain not only a snapshot of the existing global structure of agriculture, but also to serve as a reliable and up-to-date basis for sampling frames.
He closed by stating that the discussions at this meeting would be beneficial to the member countries and the Asia-Pacific region as a whole, by advancing towards the formulation of appropriate politics on agriculture and the development of rural areas, while ensuring adequate supplies of food for the population, and the achievement of sustainable growth.
In his opening statement (Annex 4), Mr Kenji Kamikura, Senior Statistician of the Statistics Planning Division, Statistics Department, MAFF, Japan, on behalf of the donor government, expressed his appreciation of FAO’s efforts towards the improvement of agricultural statistics throughout the history of the organization, especially in the Asia-Pacific region, and his sincere gratitude to all country Focal Points for attending the meeting.
Japan considers it vital for the improvement of global food security that all countries should produce and share reliable statistical data for the food and agriculture sector. In this context, since 1998, Japan has contributed to a trust fund in FAO for the improvement and standardization of agricultural statistics as well as statistical data exchange in Asia-Pacific countries. An Agricultural Statistics Expert (ASE) has been sent to the FAO regional office in Bangkok to promote the implementation of the project.
The project ended in December last year, but Japan sought project extension until 2007, despite budget stringencies. The project is so important that Japan sent Mr Hagino to serve as an Expert on 1 June 2005. The project has the following objectives: (a) widen its coverage of food and agricultural data, (b) broaden country participation in the project and (c) focus on capacity building among member countries for analysing food and agricultural statistics in order to assist policy and planning for food security, and poverty alleviation in particular. Japan intends to continue its assistance and expects the active participation of member countries.
The ASEAN Food Security Information System (AFSIS) project, which started in January 2003 - also with support from the Japanese Government - built an ASEAN Food Security Information Network based on the system developed by the FAO project and stored data from the ASEAN+3 countries. On behalf of the AFSIS project donor, Mr Kamikura expressed appreciation for FAO’s assistance to AFSIS.
Mr Kamikura concluded by saying that the project would make a fresh start for further development of the RDES and food security in the region. He expected that all the Focal Points’ personnel would work actively on the management of the data exchange system, collection of necessary data and collaboration with institutions and agencies concerned for effective data utilization. Their efforts in these activities will allow the project to accomplish its targets.
Agenda item 2
Mr Savanh Hanephom from Lao PDR was elected as Chair, Mr Abdur Rashid Sikder from Bangladesh as Vice Chair and Mr Romeo Recide from the Philippines as Rapporteur.
Agenda item 3
The provisional agenda and timetable were adopted without any changes. The agenda and timetable are given in Annex 1.
Agenda item 4
The ASE presented a review of the project work plan (April 2005 to December 2007). The 16 countries involved in the project are Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Iran, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Viet Nam.
The project has developed the RDES (formulated by the project GCP/RAS/171/JPN) and operationalized the project’s Web site. By accessing this Web site through the Internet, Asia and Pacific Commission on Agricultural Statistics (APCAS) countries participating in the project have been able to upload national and sub-national food and agricultural statistics into the RDES for users worldwide to view and/or download. The next step is to expand the RDES from these 16 countries to the remaining APCAS countries.
In the first regional project, types of data analyses for agricultural policy carried out by countries in the region were reviewed. This review concluded that regionally, national statistical data analyses were in various stages of development and countries needed continued technical assistance for developing and/or strengthening national capacity in the context of analytical technologies for food and agricultural statistics.
These covered the installation of computers and connection to the Internet, with the project purchasing hardware (PCs, printers and uniform power suppliers) and software for the participating countries. The unspent balance of the former project (GCP/RAS/171/JPN) covered the cost. In countries where the Focal Points did not have Internet connections, they subscribed to an Internet connection on a contractual basis, with reimbursement for the subscription. Systems were installed during the visit of the ASE who gave necessary guidance and training to personnel in charge of system operation in the participating countries.
For ASEAN countries with the same Project Focal Point, computer purchase and Internet connection subscription were financed through the AFSIS project.
The ASE reviewed the previous Focal Points meetings, matching the recommendations and targets made at these meetings with the accomplishments to date.
The first meeting in Bangkok (6–7 August 2002) recommended:
Establishment of webpages in countries which did not have them, and their improvement or development in countries which had already set up the webpages. Accomplished.
The proposed “Project Work Plan” discussed in the Meeting was comprehensive and appropriate, and accordingly the Country Focal Points should pursue it actively during its implementation. Accomplished.
Implementing close cooperation and coordination with the projects on food security information in Asia and the Pacific region. The ASE was supposed to maintain close contact with the then proposed AFSIS project and with FAO projects related to food and agricultural information. Likewise at the national level, there was expected to be strong coordination and cooperation among the concerned agencies. Ongoing.
Implementing the RDES on a pilot basis in certain countries, to be selected based on priorities outlined in the “Guidelines” during the Meeting and taking into account certain country-specific conditions.Accomplished.
Holding the Meeting of the Focal Points once a year, as suggested by the Evaluation Report of the predecessor Project GCP/RAS/171/JPN. The second meeting was planned for March 2003 and the agenda was to include, inter alia, the plan for implementation of the RDES in detail, including hardware/software installation, application of the model webpage, and related training. Ongoing.
Identification of approaches and mechanisms to ensure sustainability of the Project after the project period. PARIS21 and the establishment of the Trust Fund for Statistics Capacity Building were cited to have possible implications for national systems of food and agricultural statistics in the Region. Countries were encouraged to explore the possibilities of using these resources.Ongoing.
At the second meeting in Bangkok (27–28 March 2003) a prototype of the RDES was presented for discussion by the participants and the future activities of the project were outlined. Recommendations were:
Compilation by the Focal Points of the required statistical data into the RDES system after installation. Accomplished.
Use of common format data tables. The proposed common basic format for the RDES data tables was considered appropriate. It was agreed that the Focal Points should use this format for loading data into the system. While a core set of common commodities would be included in the national RDES Internet pages, countries could add other commodities found to be relevant. Any deviation from basic data format would have to be explained through appropriate notes. The format of the statistical tables would be prepared by the project and sent to the Focal Points for implementation. Ongoing.
Hardware procurement and system installation. The meeting agreed that the system hardware specifications were comprehensive and that the schedule of hardware procurement and software installation in countries, beginning in April 2003 and ending in June 2003, was reasonable. The Focal Points were expected to assist in hardware procurement and software installation. Accomplished.
At the third meeting in Pattaya, Thailand (12–13 October 2004), the Focal Points discussed issues relating to the RDES Web site and the various country pages, and agreed on several recommendations to further improve the system. The action points emanating from these recommendations were all ongoing:
Standardization of the formats of databases, data units and item names, and expansion of the scope of RDES in accordance with the presentation of the ASE (Development) on standards for data of the RDES and extension of data items and countries of the RDES.
More advocacy and IT-related capacity building.
Exploration of the possibility of linking and integrating with other Web sites in each country.
Exercising care in posting data on the Web site (for instance, standardizing crop names to internationally-accepted definition; also using calendar vs. agricultural year).
Preparation of a regional webpage in order to access information for the purpose of comparing agricultural production data at national levels.
Investigating the possibility of accommodating data files as well as graphics, textual descriptions and analyses in the future, and the inclusion of supplementary information in both quantity and value indicators, e.g. contribution of agriculture to the GDP.
Inclusion of monthly wholesale prices on a trial basis, in view of the very rapid changes in prices of commodities.
Ensuring consistency of information reported to FAO (national level) with the data in the RDES.
The Focal Points were informed that support from governments had been very meaningful and that regional data exchange was very important to the region, particularly as this project resulted from a request from APCAS member governments in 1996. With the rapid developments in technology, it was noted that capacity building was very important. The new Focal Points were encouraged to share their ideas, as it was important for everyone to make this regional data exchange system as comprehensive and as useful as possible.
The observers from Malaysia inquired about the procedure for becoming full members of the RDES. Although there are procedural steps to be taken in this regard, they were informed that they could participate in the activities of the RDES even if they were not formal members.
It was pointed out that there was a need to move forward, developing action points based on the recommendations from the first three Focal Points meetings.
Similarities and differences between the RDES and the AFSIS were cited. Both were regional projects, with AFSIS covering ASEAN countries and the RDES covering selected APCAS countries. AFSIS worked with designated institutions in countries as Focal Points. As an FAO project, the RDES had different levels of focal points. FAO first dealt with Departments of Foreign Affairs, then the specific agencies in charge of agricultural statistics and finally the person designated to represent that institution. It was noted that the sustainability of the system would rely heavily on the commitment of countries and not on individual representatives.
On minimum requirements/data for the Web site, it was also clarified that the second Focal Points meeting had identified ten basic crops and livestock units, as part of its recommendations.
Agenda items 5 and 6
A pilot system for the RDES was designed, developed, pre-tested and installed in Lao PDR by the ASE and the Consultant with the cooperation of the Lao Focal Point. After the pilot system was modified, webpages for the system were developed and users’ manuals for the national Focal Points were prepared. The project contracted the use of the web server of a private web-hosting company. The RDES was installed in this web server and the project Web site was opened for the RDES. Its URL is http://www.faorap-apcas.org.
The RDES has the following features: (a) it is an interactive web-based system; (b) a web server is not needed in each country as only Internet access is required for the system; (c) files can be stored using various formats, inter alia, MS Excel, MS Word, and PDF; and (d) easy data management for the Focal Points.
In terms of access, the site has been visited by 29 650 visitors with a total of 362 953 hits. The average number of daily visitors has been 31.7, while the average number of hits has been 389.0.
Security concerns were expressed and questions raised on upgrading security and preventing hacking which had already occurred. Suggested measures included: (a) the ASE should back up all the contents of the project Web site every week; (b) changing the password by Focal Points every three months; and (c) contacting the ASE immediately when a Web site anomaly occurs.
The member countries presented a review of their RDES implementation. Important issues emanating from the country reviews included:
Usefulness of the RDES in establishing a linkage of agricultural databases among the APCAS countries.
Establishment of a systematic database on agricultural production statistics according to RDES requirements. This would greatly assist national data users, as well as those belonging to member countries of APCAS.
The availability of agricultural status and production statistics of regional countries is an important factor in determining the market opportunities for agricultural products, which has a direct impact on production. The RDES has a vital role in facilitating the sharing and exchange of required information on food and agricultural products among regional member countries.
Use of the RDES to upload and download data provided to planners and decision-makers within the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) and other users in relation to production and marketing of agricultural products.
The RDES provided a useful platform for the world, especially countries in Asia and the Pacific, to exchange regional data.
Strengthening national capacity to analyse, use and disseminate food and agricultural statistics in support of agricultural development. Agricultural statistics for 1993 to 2003 have been uploaded to the Web site for 14 crops.
In some countries, more detailed data were available from RDES Web sites. The main users of the RDES Web sites included governments, international organizations, NGOs and those interested in trade and development.
Use of RDES data for investment and development planning purposes, especially in some provinces which share borders with neighbouring countries such as Viet Nam, Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia.
Agenda item 7
The objective of national seminars is to enhance planning and policy for agricultural development — including food security and poverty monitoring — and to support country-specific issues on agricultural development, poverty and food insecurity.
The AFSIS has conducted national seminars for its member countries. The project will join future AFSIS seminars in ASEAN countries on a cooperative basis.
For non-AFSIS countries, the project will conduct national seminars in eight countries — Bangladesh, Bhutan, Fiji, India, Iran, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The seminars will be conducted in the national language to ensure that the RDES will be well understood by the participants, comprising staff and officials from headquarters and sub-regional offices of the focal statistical agencies. Other government officials, including policy-makers, will also be invited.
The national seminars are expected to introduce concepts of food security and discuss policy-making with statisticians and policy-makers. They will also introduce the RDES methodology and discuss the capacity building programme for agricultural data analysis in the context of contributing to policy- and decision-making. The Focal Points will take the lead in organizing the national seminars.
The Focal Points from the countries in which national seminars will be held were asked to present a review of the training programmes in their respective organizations.
During the last six years, Bhutan conducted workshops and training events for relevant staff within the MOA at regional, district and sub-district levels on statistical subjects, and sent staff abroad for short courses on data management. Some time before the end of October, a workshop will be conducted for all the MOA staff responsible for information management. The workshop will focus on the following:
Standardization of data collection formats for respective departments.
Standardization of reporting formats.
Streamlining of responsibilities of officials at various levels.
Drawing up agreement on the submission date of data to the PPD by respective departments within the MOA.
Basic analytical skills.
Introduction of the RDES, so that officials who have access to the Internet can visit the site.
Myanmar’s SLRD serves as the RDES Focal Point and effectively delivers human resource and infrastructure development. To improve the capacity of staff from various national agencies involved in data collection and processing, a seminar on “The System of Agricultural Statistics of Myanmar” was organized in 2002. The results generated better coordination within agencies, thus overcoming data gaps and improving the quality of data. ICT infrastructure development was undertaken through the provision of fibre optic cable networking (LAN) between the Ministry Office and six other departments, broadband wireless access, Data Processing Centers and WAN (Wide Area Network) connections. In future, a National Network System will be established to provide timely information from township-level offices nationwide.
In Indonesia, the training was designed to improve awareness and professionalism, develop skilled personnel, provide and improve socio-economic indicators and enhance the participants’ skills in designing and implementing relevant surveys. It recommended that cost structure surveys should be designed and implemented, a food and agricultural journal should be developed and published and annual meetings should be held in different venues.
In Lao PDR, the leadershipmonitored trends and developments to ensure that uses were maximized. Frequently used data included information on crops for dry and wet seasons. For livestock data, monthly reports were needed on animal disease and mortality as well as annual animal inventories. More intensive training programmes were recommended to improve human resources.
Sri Lanka has a centralized statistical system, with basic training for new entrants to the service; this consists of orientation and on-the-job training. A nine-month certificate course is held every other year for which candidates are selected through a competitive examination. In addition, seminars are held on special topics; these are attended by different levels of officers. An incentive for the officers is the privilege of enrolling in post-graduate courses, for which they are given fully paid leave. To move forward, support for a national workshop on in-depth analysis of the results of the recently conducted agriculture census data was sought by the Focal Point.
China usually conducts two kinds of surveys: (a) sampling surveys for estimations on crops and other products, and (b) a complete survey. The MOA conducts 15 farmer surveys every year in more than 600 counties, nationwide. Complete surveys are conducted during the first quarter of each year. The results of the sample surveys from each county are sent to the MOA and stored in its Database Information Center. Price data are collected daily, with more than 200 wholesale markets participating in data gathering. To sustain these efforts, the MOA facilitated an annual nationwide meeting on Agricultural Statistics and provided training courses for farmers on statistics and information collection.
Agricultural statistics in India came from various sources. Crop production data were gathered by state agencies and consolidated by the Directorate of Economics and Statistics under the MOA. Data on horticulture, livestock and population were collected and consolidated by different agencies. Through the RDES, the MOA plans to consolidate the efforts of all of these agencies. A multi-agency workshop on RDES would pave the way for harmonized national statistical data gathering and processing.
Agenda item 9
The objectives of the Expert Consultation on Analysis and Dissemination of Census and Survey Data were to develop guidelines and caveats for countries and agencies which collected, analysed and disseminated agricultural sector data; reviewed various types of analysis procedures; discussed analysis procedures; recommended treatment of missing and incomplete data; and developed capacity-building and technical assistance programmes. It was attended by representatives from China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and ADPC.
The Consultation presentations were delivered in three parts and covered the following subjects:
Enlarging the Scope and Analysis using Agricultural Census Data
Consideration of Gender Variables in the Analysis of Food and Agricultural Sector Data
The Crop Monitoring System of the Food Security Information System
Preparation of Food Balance Sheets
Application of Factor Analysis to Data on Food and Nutrition
Use of Data Warehouses for Data Dissemination
Organizing National Statistical Databases
Agricultural Census Tabulation and Analysis
Forecasting of Crop Production
Impact Assessment and Agricultural Disaster
Effect of Natural Disasters on Crop Production
Measuring the Role of Agriculture, Agri-Food and Agri-Industry in the Economy
Impact of Trade Flow Data on Agricultural Sector Policies
Seasonal Price Index in Crop Statistics
The Consultation made various recommendations under seven major concerns.
Time-use studies should be conducted in order to supplement the gender-disaggregated data from censuses used in the analysis of gender dynamics, relations and connections in communities. The Consultation also agreed that data on activities (independent of the time involved) that women do would also be helpful and should be considered as a priority.
Crop monitoring systems
Existing crop monitoring systems should be improved with a view to enhancing them as effective components of the food security information system. In this respect, alternative sources like remote sensing and farmers’ appraisal surveys should be explored.
The Normalized Differential Vegetative Index (NDVI), a measure of the greenness of the ground cover and correlated with plant vigour or potential yield, is a valuable indicator of crop condition, especially in areas where rainfall is a limiting factor.
Food balance sheets
It is important for countries without food balance sheets to start their compilation on the basis of available sources of data on production, trade, wastage and other factors.
Parameters like wastage ratio should be updated through periodic surveys in order to capture the technological developments in agricultural operations, particularly harvesting and post-harvesting operations including transport of crops to markets, factories, and the like.
Efforts should be made to improve estimates of horticultural crops through alternative sources like household income and expenditure surveys.
No simple forecasting technique can be recommended for all countries to use; each country should make its own choice, bearing in mind its specific needs, organizational set-up and capacity, MOA resources and the national statistical agency for data/information gathering and analysis in the country.
Crop forecasting should be institutionalized by setting up an institution within national statistical agencies with the mandate to prepare and issue national and sub-national forecasts of important crops including cereals, fruits and vegetables.
All the institutions and agencies collecting data/information required for crop forecasting should be involved in the preparation of crop forecasting.
A standardized methodology for speedy assessment of the economic impact of disasters in the agricultural sector should be developed.
Capacity-building activities should be undertaken at various levels in member countries to institutionalize the disaster impact assessment methodology.
Techniques and analysis methods
An agriculture census tabulation and analysis manual is an excellent guide for countries.
Conditions/relationships of trade flow data such as knowing the characteristics or behaviour of the commodity, the region that produced the commodity and the use of the commodity could be utilized to estimate agricultural production.
The link-relative method for forecasting future prices is a simple, but valuable tool to use. But it is important to use more than one variable/commodity in the decision-making process.
Countries should exert efforts to (a) analyse the importance of their agro-industry in the national economy to help better reflect the role of the agriculture sector and (b) compile relevant indicators.
Institutional infrastructure should be created or strengthened within statistics offices to facilitate the analysis and use of agricultural census results.
Agenda item 9
The country reports of the Focal Points were synthesized and presented by the Rapporteur. The highlights were summarized as follows:
Updates on RDES implementation
The RDES has been set up and maintained in the participating countries.
The RDES has the potential to supply information for supporting food security policy formulation but its use has been limited due to various problems and constraints.
Problems and Constraints
Low priority and low profile of the RDES in some countries.
Technical problems were encountered by some countries in data items and data format, non-uniform home pages.
Lack of metadata.
Inadequate resources (at the country level) for maintenance of the RDES.
Weak coordination, monitoring and feedback mechanisms.
Lack of capacity building at the country level in relation to RDES implementation.
Requests and Recommendations
The Focal Points approved the requests and recommendations listed hereunder.
Increase data coverage/entrance features by:
Expanding the range of agricultural statistics available to meet the needs of data users.
Uploading results of special studies and censuses.
Providing the RDES with a facility where users have the option to query the online database for cross-country comparisons.
Providing additional features on the Web site to enable users to choose suitable formats - HTML, PDF or spreadsheet.
Country pages should have a short article or digest or a tabular presentation showing recent developments in the country’s agricultural economy.
Making the functions of the RDES more user-friendly, retaining present features, such as Tabulation, Graph and Mapping options.
Strengthen the capacity of offices at all levels in the areas of data collection, processing, analysis and dissemination.
Organize training for the webmasters of country home pages on the RDES methodology to ensure compliance with agreed uniform procedures and standards.
Formats and standards
Standardize data units, data items and data formats.
Identify core indicators for all countries.
Prepare an RDES Manual of Operations.
At the country level, lobby for more support for the RDES as a regular function.
At the regional level, design and implement coordination, monitoring and feedback mechanisms to keep country Focal Points updated on progress on various aspects of RDES work.
Improve hardware, networking and Internet facilities.
Strengthen Internet security to prevent hacking.
The Focal Points reviewed the list of commodities (Annex 5) for which data had to be uploaded by member countries.For crops, data on production in thousand tonnes, area harvested/planted in thousand hectares and yield in kilograms per hectare would be uploaded. For livestock and poultry, number of head and volume of production would be reported. A consensus was reached to allow countries to upload farm-gate and other market prices if available.
Agenda item 10
The ASE expressed his gratitude to the Focal Points for their cooperation and contributions which had made the meeting successful. He urged them to continue their efforts in making the project responsive to the needs of their respective countries.
He thanked the representatives and observers from the donor government and the Japanese Embassy for attending the meeting; the officers from the FAO Regional Office for their continuing support to the project; and the Meeting Secretariat for playing a significant role in the smooth organization and implementation of the meeting. He looked forward to the next meeting of the Focal Points, and the national seminars which will be implemented in the coming months.
The meeting was adjourned, after a vote of thanks from the Focal Points, at 16.30.