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Next phase of planning for Africa's Agricultural Sector census kicks off

The FAO World Programme for the Census of Agriculture provides support and guidance to countries to carry out national agricultural censuses

Roundtable to gain deeper understanding of FAO’s new agriculture census guidelines (2020) takes place in Nairobi, with more African countries in the region expressing commitment of countries to undertake the exercise.

The Regional Roundtable on the World Programme for the Census of Agriculture 2020 (WCA 2020) has concluded in Kenya’s capital Nairobi after five days of intense deliberations on the new guidelines for the Census of Agriculture 2020. The roundtable disseminated the guidelines to participants from various Anglophone African countries to assist them gain a better understanding of the new census modalities and main census activities, from data collection to data dissemination, as well as new and revised census themes and items advocated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

The 2020 census round has begun.  The publication provides guidance on agricultural censuses to be carried out by countries in the period between 2016 and 2025. The WCA 2020 will ensure that data collected are comparable at the national and international levels while also addressing emerging information needs of the 21st century, including some Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) indicators.

FAO supports member countries in carrying out censuses of agriculture. The assistance is in the form of regular technical assistance and census guidelines that are updated and disseminated every 10 years.

Structural data on agriculture collected includes the number, size and distribution of holdings, land tenure, land use, crop area, crop intensity, irrigation, livestock numbers, machinery and equipment. Socio-demographic characteristics, work and other inputs are also taken into account, entailing a complete account of the structure of the agricultural sector.

Information disclosed by censuses of agriculture is crucial for the formulation of policies related to agriculture and rural development. It is also essential for the private sector to make informed decisions that guide their investments in activities related to agro-business. 

The meeting kicked off with welcome remarks by FAO’s Representative in Kenya, Gabriel Rugalema, who delivered a statement on behalf of José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of FAO. Jairo Castano, who heads the Agricultural Censuses and Surveys of FAO’s Statistics Division together with regional and sub-regional statisticians facilitated discussions during the entire meeting.

Participants welcomed the new WCA 2020 guidelines and highly appreciated the content and timing of the convening.  Overall, 54 representatives including from 20 member countries from Anglophone Africa were present, with the rest representing various FAO offices globally and Canada. 

Member countries represented included Botswana, Ethiopia, The Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Seychelles, South Africa, South Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The participants are either directly involved in the organization of the Agricultural Census (AC) or related statistical operations in their respective countries.

Importance of Agricultural Census

The agricultural census underpins the statistical system which monitors the SDGs, provides the sampling frame for the agricultural survey programme and serves as a benchmark for the national agricultural statistics system. During deliberations, participants noted that the census content needs to consider countries’ information needs and priorities, based on consultation with data users and the relevant producers of official statistics, as well as the need to enable international comparisons.  They also acknowledged that an integrated agricultural statistical system prevented the duplication of data collection in the census, current sample surveys and relevant administrative data sources suitable for statistics purposes. They agreed on the necessity to focus the census on the collection of the essential census items recommended in the WCA 2020, as well as those specific to national needs.

Most participants highlighted a range of existing difficulties related to timely and adequate financing of census operations. The need to build partnerships and make a business case for the census to persuade decision makers to support and fund the census was highlighted, given the magnitude of the exercise.  Also discussed was the methodological considerations for the census design, taking into account the need to improve the cost-efficiency of the census.

There was a consensus that to be able to carry out a successful operation, it would be imperative for the census scope to include both crop and animal production units; cover the agricultural holding in the household and non-household sectors, especially large farms which have an important contribution to total agricultural production among other technical recommendations.

Technological advances in data capture

The use of emerging technologies for field data capture and compilation drew great interest with participants noting both the advantages and disadvantages. In the region, Mozambique (ag. census 2009/2010) and Namibia (2013/2014) were noted to have used Computer-Assisted Personal Interviewing (CAPI) in their agricultural censuses as it reportedly offers a significant reduction of the time gap between census data collection and the release of census results.  However, it was emphasized that before adopting new technology, countries would be required to master the system through pilot testing in a small survey. The participants noted that satellite images have a good application for planning census field work but limited application for estimating crop areas in small holdings.

The importance of communication and publicity campaign, as well as wide and timely dissemination of census results was emphasized. It was pointed out that a well-planned and budgeted census operation, including publicity campaign and dissemination, should be made in a bid to secure appropriate funding for these activities. Other aspects of production and dissemination of census results were also discussed, such as ensuring data confidentiality when presenting census data. The growing use of new media to disseminate census results was noted.

The participants highlighted the importance of the development of the guidelines on operational aspects of census taking and welcomed FAO’s efforts. Some countries expressed interest in receiving further technical assistance to ensure the sustainability of the CountrySTAT systems, as well as archiving and safe access to census microdata. It was recommended that countries collaborate closely with national stakeholders, FAO country offices and development partners to include the agricultural censuses as a priority area of country assistance by FAO and the donor community.

Ethiopia, The Gambia, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Seychelles, South Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe all confirmed or informed of plans to conduct Agricultural Census between 2017 and 2023.   While some have no plans for the same, they informed of plans to collect some agriculture related data in other forms. The 25th Session of the African Commission on Agricultural Statistics (AFCAS) is scheduled to take place in Entebbe, Uganda from 13 to 17 November 2017.


Ruth Lehmann | Communications Officer | Food and Agriculture Organization – Kenya Representation|Ruth.Lehmann@fao.org