No 5
(WCA 2000)
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Rome, 1995



During the past decade public and governmental concern over environmental quality has grown considerably. Issues include land degradation, water and air pollution, loss of biologically important flora and fauna, overgrazing, pollution arising from excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers, climate change, etc. Technical work is under way to improve FAO's capacity to incorporate environmental and sustainability information in development planning, programming and implementation. This includes, inter alia, proposals to adjust the System of National Accounts, developing sustainability indicators at the global, national and sub-national levels, establishing targets and thresholds for safe and sustainable agricultural practices, and organising an information system to analyze environmental, social and economic data in an integrated manner.

In many countries environmental information is either unavailable, incomplete or of poor quality. There are questions regarding what to measure and how to measure it. The Programme for WCA 2000 attempts to address some of these issues within the agricultural environment. The census of agriculture has historically collected a considerable amount of social and economic data which are relevant to key environmental indicators. Examples are area under cultivation, other land use within agricultural holdings, man-land and livestock-land ratios, pasture and grazing land etc. Changes in these indicators can be used to measure whether current agricultural practices are sustainable and environmentally safe. There are a number of opportunities in the census questionnaire to collect some additional information. The Census Programme proposes augmenting existing information on agricultural practices by including more information related to soil type, to agro-ecological zones the bio-physical characteristics of land, etc. This type of information should provide a good framework for analyzing production potential based on soil, climate and agricultural production characteristics. Chapter V of this publication indicates several items (marked "#") where relevant questions have been added along with previous questions relating to this topic. In countries where the feasibility of collecting such information has been established the additional data forthcoming can improve the basis for future planning and decision-making.

Because the census is normally held only once a decade it cannot be the means of collecting needed information that is seasonal or episodic in nature including abnormal climatic variations. Nor can it fully address issues related to subsistence levels and the marginal economy in which poor farmers operate. Therefore, data on some indicators, recommended at various international meetings can only be collected through regular agricultural sample surveys. Data on agricultural holdings provided by the census can be used as a frame for such surveys. However, in countries where the existing information system is weak, a sample survey may be organized to obtain an initial assessment of general levels of such indicators.