FAO provides free access to statistics treasure trove

Posted by Josette Dunn on 14th July 2010

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) is granting free and open access to its central data repository, FAOSTAT, the world’s largest and most comprehensive statistical database on food, agriculture, and hunger, the UN agency announced last week.Previously, it was possible to download without charge a limited amount of information from FAOSTAT – which contains over one million data points covering 210 countries and territories — but access to larger batches of statistics required a paid annual subscription.

The power of numbers

“We are now providing totally free access to this immense pool of data,” said Hafez Ghanem, FAO Assistant Director General for Economic and Social Development. “This information is an important tool in the fight to alleviate poverty, promote sustainable development and eliminate hunger. We’re particularly keen on making sure that economists, planners, and policy-makers in the developing world, where that tool is needed most, can get at it and put it to good use.”

Ghanem also noted that the move forms part of an ongoing FAO effort to provide easier and more direct access to its vast information assets, an initiative that came out of an independent external evaluation and strategic planning process initiated by FAO’s Members in 2008.

“FAOSTAT is a powerful tool that can be used not just to see where hunger occurs, but to drill down and better understand why hunger occurs — and what might be done to combat it,” added Pietro Gennari, FAO Statistics Division Director. “It’s especially designed to support monitoring, analysis and informed, evidence-based policy-making specifically related to rural and agricultural development and hunger reduction, the only tool of its kind.”

In addition to aiding development planning, the information contained in FAOSTAT gives developing countries the intelligence they need in order to participate in and benefit from international trade in an effective and competitive manner. Donor countries can also use it to identify specific sectors where aid might be most effectively targeted.

A reservoir of knowledge

FAOSTAT includes data on agricultural and food production, usage of fertilizers and pesticides, food aid shipments, food balance sheets, forestry and fisheries production, irrigation and water use, land use, population trends, trade in agricultural products, the use of agricultural machinery, and more.

FAOSTAT can be consulted using English, French or Spanish and allows users to select and organize the statistical information into tables and charts according to their needs and to download it in Excel format. The original statistic data is supplied by individual countries and regional development organizations in standardized formats. Records go back to 1961, the dawn of the Green Revolution.

This reservoir of knowledge is already being used by economists, planners and national development authorities, donor agencies, international aid organizations, other UN agencies, NGOs, academic researchers, investors – and farmers.