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[NAIROBI] It is necessary for Sub-Saharan African countries to invest more in conducting agricultural censuses for sustainable growth of the continent’s agricultural sector, a conference has heard.

According to the FAO, agriculture census is the process of collecting and disseminating data on the structure of agriculture in a country.

Experts at a regional meeting of the World Programme for the Census of Agriculture (WCA) 2020 held last month (18-22 September) in Kenya said that African countries have some  capacity to conduct census on agriculture because 22 countries from the region participated in the last census held in 2010. But they added that there is a need for more capacity building and financial investments to ensure more countries conduct censuses.

“Africa has the highest number of undernourished people but most countries have poor capacity for collecting, analysing and disseminating agricultural data.”

Jairo Castano, FAO

The experts were concerned that available agricultural data in the region was not comprehensive enough to aid planning and decision making in the sector.

The meeting that was organised by the FAO brought together agricultural research scientists and policymakers to discuss new features of the WCA 2020 in the light of UN’s Agenda 2030 on sustainable development and other initiatives.

Jairo Castano, FAO senior statistician, said that with about 800 million people malnourished globally, it is imperative that governments and development agencies have accurate, timely and accessible data for decision making.

“Africa has the highest number of undernourished people but most countries have poor capacity for collecting, analysing and disseminating agricultural data,” said Castano. “This is because of low investments and prioritisation of agricultural data.”

He urged African countries to improve their capacity to conduct well managed agricultural census, citing confidence provided by the FAO through roundtables to prepare countries for the 2020 census.

The meeting was organised for 20 African countries including Botswana, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Namibia, Nigeria, Tanzania, South Africa, South Sudan, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

According to Castano, some agricultural officials have inadequate or no basic data such as number of farmers in their countries and the average age of the farming population. He said that the continent needs to strengthen the quality and availability of data if it wants to feed the rising population.

The FAO has organised the 2020 WCA under 15 themes including land, irrigation, crops, livestock, demographics and social characteristics, household food security, fisheries and aquaculture.

Willy Bett, Kenya’s cabinet secretary for agriculture, livestock and fisheries, said that the country will conduct its first ever comprehensive agricultural census in 2019 whose methodology will be informed by the WCA 2020 guidelines.

“Owing to our unique farming systems, Africa needs data more than any other parts of the world,” said Bett adding that African countries are faced by systematic challenges that hinder generation and management of high quality agricultural data and statistics. Agnes Kyalo, coordinator of Kenya’s census of agricultural programme at the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, tells SciDev.Net that it is imperative that the upcoming national censuses incorporate gender dynamics component.

“We must find out if we have any changes in terms of how we address gender issues in agriculture that will inform how we respond to them,” said Kyalo, citing a need to know whether land owners are men or women.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.