African Centre for Statistics

2008 African Statistics Day Celebrations


Challenges of Rising Food Prices and Agricultural Development in Africa: the Role of Statistics

African Statistics Day PosterNovember 18 is African Statistics Day. This day was adopted in May 1990 by the twenty-fifth Session of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and the Sixteenth Meeting of African Ministers responsible for Economic Planning and Development to be celebrated each year in order to “ increase public awareness about the important role which statistics play in all aspects of social and economic life” of our countries and the continent.

The theme for the celebrations this year is: Challenges of Rising Food Prices and Agricultural Development in Africa: the Role of Statistics.

Agriculture remains the dominant sector in most African economies. The sector contributes significantly to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), national exports and employment. In addition, most industries and services in African countries are based on this sector. It is obvious that the health of the agricultural sector has a huge impact on the rural poor, but the urban poor too depend on agriculture because basic foodstuffs account for the larger part of their total expenditure. The planned expansion and improved efficiency of the agricultural sector, therefore, provides opportunities for increasing wealth, reducing poverty and for setting African countries on the path to sustainable development.

The recent escalation of food prices and the reports of food crises in East Africa threaten economic growth, peace and security. Thus the prospects for meeting development goals set out nationally in wealth creation and poverty reduction strategies and other sectoral development programmes, regionally in initiatives such as the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and internationally through the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are detrimentally impacted. The increasing disparities in African Societies resulting from rising prices and food shortages highlight the need for more concerted efforts at national and regional level to harness the potential of the agricultural sector for national development, and to understand the effects of environmental changes on agriculture. The Ministerial panel discussion on topical special and economic issues during the Joint Annual Meetings of the African Union Conference of Ministers of Economy and Finance, and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from 31 March to 2 April 2008 noted that “For this to happen, there is a need for structural transformation of the agricultural sector in Africa, anchored on better use of science and technology, infrastructure expansion and market access to increase yields and productivity”. The NEPAD has formulated a collective agenda - A Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) – aimed at generating a 6% annual growth of agricultural gross domestic product, reducing poverty and achieving food and nutrition security. The main goal of CAADP is to help African countries achieve greater economic growth through agriculture-led development. The Programme is anchored in four pillars that summarise the key priority areas for investment in African Agriculture, including: a) land and water management; b) rural infrastructure and trade-related capacities for improved market access; c) increasing food supply and reducing hunger; and d) agricultural research, technology dissemination and adoption. Although CAADP is of a continental scope, its implementation mechanisms involve regional and country level roundtables aimed at developing and building consensus among stakeholders on investment programs, funding arrangements, sector policies, and review and dialogue that are required to ensure that each country fully buys in the Programme. CAADP thus aims to ensure that the promotion of agricultural sector growth is an integral part of national development efforts.

The planning, management and monitoring of the agricultural sector should be based on sound evidence, given its importance to the economy and well being of African nations. This in turn requires sustained availability of comprehensive, reliable and consistent statistical data and information in a timely manner and in a format that promotes their informed use. Such data and information are a critical resource essential to enlighten policy and programme design and implementation, to measure progress, and to report on development outcomes. They are also needed for other purposes such as input into national accounts.

Lack of quality data on agriculture and related topics remains a major constraint to agricultural development in many African countries. Although African countries have a tradition spanning a period of about four decades of collecting agricultural statistics, they have by and large not developed structured National Agricultural Statistical Systems with well-defined objectives and a strategic direction. The current systems are fragile, largely uncoordinated and unintegrated in overall national statistical systems, insufficiently resourced and essentially unsustainable. Many countries have not undertaken a census of agriculture in the recent past whereas such data are critical to obtaining an accurate picture of the structure and organization of the agricultural sector. Similarly, many countries are not undertaking agricultural surveys on a regular basis and as a consequence lack current agricultural data to measure the performance of policies and programmes over time. Data from administrative sources such as the agricultural reporting services are often incomplete and are difficult to link data with socio-economic data from agricultural households.

A narrow focus on economic growth can give a misleading picture of the health and wellbeing of our people. Economic growth is a necessary but not sufficient condition. Often it can be an indicator of an increase in cash crops and the result can be greater disparities between the wealthiest and the poorest in a country. As statisticians we have a responsibility to measure the distribution of resources within our countries. To this end an important component of our data armoury is a living standards household survey. Better information is needed on nutrition and its impact on the health of the people.

The African Day Celebrations this year, therefore, aim to highlight the need for countries to do more to improve the collection, management and use of agricultural data and information for national development, and to build an understanding of the ways in which the detrimental effects of climate change on agricultural production might be mitigated.

The UN Economic Commission for Africa wishes you success in all the activities you will undertake in the celebration of African Statistics Day.