The constitution of FAO calls on the Organization to collect, analyze, interpret and disseminate information relating to nutrition, food and agriculture - where the term "agriculture" and its derivatives include fisheries, marine products, forestry and primary forestry products.
The 1996 World Food Summit, through the Rome Declaration on World Food Security and the World Food Summit Plan of Action, recognized the need to make concerted efforts to ensure food security at the individual, household, national, regional and global levels. Improving agricultural statistics in general helps planners to design adequate agricultural development programmes to reduce and, ultimately, eliminate food insecurity.
The availability of data and the accessibility of these data are important issues in transition countries, and concern not only population or agricultural production statistics but also data on the fishery and forestry sectors, on trade balances and on agricultural prices. Reliable and up-to-date statistics are indispensable tools for planning, policy design and strategy development. Therefore, FAO is playing an important role in developing agricultural statistical systems (such as CountrySTAT) in order to accompany these countries' transition from centrally planned to market economies.
FAO's Statistics Division (ESS) assembles, analyzes and disseminates statistics and related meta data on world food and agriculture, and prepares annual food supply assessments for all countries. These data are consolidated and disseminated through FAOSTAT - FAO's major corporate statistical database. Furthermore, the Statistics Division assists the FAO member countries in the development of their food and agricultural statistical systems, providing guidelines and technical assistance to improve the quality, timeliness and coverage of the data.
The activities of ESS in Europe are coordinated with those of EUROSTAT, OECD and ECE through the Inter-Secretariat Working Group on Agricultural Statistics (IWG. AGRI), and through the newly-appointed Statistician in the Organization's Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia (REU) in Budapest, Hungary. This newly established post reflects FAO's increased focus on the countries of this region, particularly with regards to their importance in the global coverage of the Organization's statistical databases. Specific activities in forestry and fishery statistics are undertaken by the concerned Departments of FAO.
The Country Statistics Service (ESSS) of the Statistics Division provides technical support to countries through FAO's Field Programme. The main areas of support are:
- Agricultural censuses
- Statistical data processing of household surveys, including food consumption and related expenditure data
- On-going systems of agricultural statistics and institutional strengthening
Agricultural statistics for food security analysis and early warning information systems
- Food and agricultural statistics at country and country-group levels as inputs for decision-making processes
- Training and capacity building.
As an example, the Technical Cooperation Programme (TCP) Project "Preparatory Assistance to the Agricultural Census 2004", which was implemented in Georgia and achieved full-delivery in June 2005, directly addressed the weaknesses of the national information systems. The development objective of this project was to support the preparations for the Agricultural Census 2004 and to strengthen national services capacities to collect, process, analyze and disseminate reliable and timely agricultural statistics for development planning and policy decision making. The Georgian Government had decided to conduct a national agricultural census in 2004 to provide benchmark data on the structure of the agricultural sector and to form the basis for an improved agricultural statistics system in the country.
The project achieved its expected objectives of census data requirements and priorities; preparing, testing and finalizing Agricultural Census 2004 instruments, taking into account the need for gender disaggregated data. Major outputs of the project were the preparation of a detailed plan for the implementation of the census; build capacities of national staff in census planning, the organization and improvement in the methodology and implementation procedures for the "on-going" national statistical system.
Other FAO Technical Assistance Projects, though not dealing with statistics in the first instance, are, nevertheless, providing advice on statistical and planning issues; and part of their outcomes is building up components of the national statistical systems. An example is the TCP project in Georgia "Strengthening the capacity of the Department of Fisheries to support fisheries sector rehabilitation" in which fishery statistics are improved.
Workshops on the development of integrated national systems of agricultural statistics are also organized. An example was the workshop "Moving towards an Agricultural Statistics System for the Market Economy", organized in Kishinev, Republic of Moldova, in September 2003 for participants from Statistical Offices and the Ministries of Agriculture of countries in Central and Eastern Europe. The workshop was designed to support regional and global efforts to improve statistics in the context of the market economy. Specifically, it aimed to assist countries in reviewing their agricultural statistical system with a view to developing an integrated programme of censuses and sample surveys along with the use of reporting systems and administrative records.
Another example was the "Seminar on National System of Food and Agricultural Statistics" organized in Bucharest, Romania, in May 2004. The focus was on identifying and discussing the problems faced by countries in modernizing their agricultural statistics systems and adapting them to the new requirements that have arisen in the transition from a planned to a market economy, and/or the accession to the European Union. A special emphasis was placed on data quality assessment and the reconciliation of data from different sources (agricultural census and current statistics).
The "capacity building" assistance has been based on regional activities such as National Demonstration Centres and on-the-job country training courses on food security and consumption statistics derived from household surveys already implemented by National Statistics Offices (NSOs) of countries in Central and Eastern Europe. More than 15 countries have participated in these activities in the last two years.
The Global Statistics Service (ESSG) of the Statistics Division holds a bi-annual meeting with agricultural statisticians from the countries of the Former USSR to update statistical data on production, trade and consumption; as well as agricultural machinery, fertilizer and prices data. In addition, these meetings assist ESSG in constantly being informed of the methodological changes taking place in these countries. Furthermore, contacts and contact details are exchanged amongst all statisticians and their offices, and this information feeds the Division's metadata domain.