Three out of four poor people in developing countries live in rural areas. Most rely directly or indirectly on agriculture for their livelihoods. Agricultural development is vital to achieving the Millennium Development Goals, particularly those related to poverty and food security and to environmental sustainability. Agriculture contributes to development as an economic activity, as a source of livelihoods, and as a provider of environmental services—roles that were spelled out in substantial detail in the 2008 World Development Report “Agriculture for Development” (World Bank 2008a). Recognition of its importance has led to renewed commitment to agriculture within the international development community.
Decisions about aid and investments that are intended to foster agricultural growth need to be based on sound information about land use, factors of agricultural production, the prevailing economic and social situations that producers face, and the interaction of these with issues concerning climate change. The impacts of these factors can only be effectively measured and evaluated with appropriate statistics. However, at present there is a serious paucity of statistical data on which to base marketing, investment, or policy decisions, or with which to assess the efficacy of current commitments or policies.
The global strategy to improve agricultural and rural statistics
The initiative to develop the Global Strategy came as a response to the declining quantity and quality of agricultural statistics and the need to provide relevant statistical information to support emerging data requirements in such areas as biofuels, global warming and food security. The United Nations Statistical Commission gave a strong push to develop a Global Strategy during its fortieth session, in February 2009, where a consensus was reached on the need to address the current unsatisfactory situation of agricultural statistics and to launch a renewed initiative on statistical capacity-building to make the necessary improvements.
The Statistical Commission established a working group of national and international representatives, called “Friends of the Chair Group”, to steer the development of the Global Strategy. The Strategy was finally prepared by the World Bank and FAO with substantial input from the Friends of Chair working group. The document (E/CN.3/2010/3) was then presented at the forty-first session of the Statistical Commission, in February 2010, at which it was unanimously endorsed.
ESCAP Committee on Statistics
The Global strategy to improve agricultural and rural statistics was brought to the attention of the ESCAP Committee on Statistics at its second session by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). The Committee recognized the urgency of the need to improve agricultural statistics in the region and the importance of integrating agricultural statistics into national statistical systems.
In its decision 2/7 (see report) “The Committee strongly endorsed the proposal of FAO to develop, over the next six months, a regional implementation plan for the Global Strategy to Improve Agricultural and Rural Statistics, and requests the secretariat to coordinate this effort in partnership with FAO and other relevant regional and subregional organizations.”
The Committee agreed that the regional implementation plan to improve agricultural and rural statistics should be integrated into the Regional Programme for the Improvement of Economic Statistics in Asia and the Pacific. In this light, the Committee decided to establish a subgroup on agricultural statistics (now called the Steering Group for Agricultural and Rural Statistics) under the Steering Group for the Regional Programme for the Improvement of Economic Statistics.