More than 100 countries are participating in the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) 2010 round of agricultural censuses covering the period 2006-2015, the agency announced.
In addition to collecting the conventional structural data at farm level, the censuses now gather socio-economic data at the community, or village level.
"Examples of community-level data under consideration are: whether the community is prone to natural disasters; the availability of services such as roads, electricity, health facilities and schools; markets and agricultural input suppliers, as well as the existence of farmers organizations, are also considered," said Hiek Som, Chief of FAO Surveys and Statistical Development Service.
The Millennium Development Goals
FAO designed the new agricultural census programme to help countries monitor progress towards the Millennium Development Goals through their national statistical programmes, Mr. Som said.
For example, accurate and updated data will help explain how changes in the agricultural sector affect household food security. This will provide indications on progress towards achieving the first goal of the Millennium: eradicating extreme poverty and hunger.
Data will help planners better understand the reasons for low school enrolment, especially in rural areas. (MDG 2 calls for primary education for all.) Figures on the role of women in agriculture and the participation of rural women in non-farm economic activities can reveal social and cultural patterns. (MDG 3 calls for gender equality and empowerment of women.)
Data on irrigation, soil degradation, use of mineral fertilizers and pesticides and forests will help governments keep a close watch on environmental issues. (MDG 7 calls for environmental sustainability).
Additional new data collected for first time
In addition to community-level data, included for the first time are some items such as soil degradation, irrigation by crop type, method and sources of irrigation, agricultural practices and services, demographic and social characteristics, household food security, type of aquaculture site and agro-forestry.
The new round of agricultural censuses is the ninth in a decennial programme, begun in 1930. After reviewing past experiences, it has been redesigned to reduce cost while, at the same time, allowing countries to collect a wider range of data.
Previous agricultural census programmes have been successful, according to FAO, but countries faced problems because of the increasing demands for data, the high costs of census taking, limited national budgets for statistics and the complexity of many census topics.