Global Office and FAO host expert group meeting on Improving Rural Statistics

The Global Office of the Global Strategy to improve Agricultural and Rural Statistics (GSARS) in collaboration with the FAO Statistics Division conducted an expert group meeting on the research topic “Improving Rural Statistics” on 22-24 January 2018 at FAO headquarters in Rome.

The objectives of the meeting were to share and jointly review with  key stakeholders the progress made so far and to set the direction for future refinements of the proposed approach and methodology to define rural territories, and evaluate the list of key indicators for rural development.

Key stakeholders from across the globe participated in the three-day meeting to scrutinize the methodological and empirical work developed by the GSARS in close collaboration with the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission. The meeting was attended by pilot countries’ National Statistical Offices (Colombia, France, South Africa, Pakistan and Malaysia); other key countries including Brazil (IBEG), China (National Statistical Bureau) and USA (ERS/USDA); international organizations including the European Commission, JRC, Eurostat, OECD, ILO, UNHABITAT, World Bank; academia, independent subject matter experts, and FAO and GSARS staff.

During the meeting, the status, the outputs (proposed definition, empirical results of the desk tests, set of key indicators, draft guidelines and field test protocols) and the roadmap for this research line were reviewed and discussed at length.

In summary, participants agreed that the lack of consensus on a rural definition hinders international comparisons of important rural-development policy outcomes, such as those identified by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  In developing an international rural definition, the principles of simplicity and cost effectiveness should be taken into account in the context of developing countries and the use of population grids was endorsed as the platform for constructing a common definition. While it was unanimously agreed to proceed with this approach, the question of how to delineate thresholds between and among urban and rural areas remains a challenge, particularly as an intermediate category is difficult to channel into one of the two categories.  Regarding rural areas characterized by inferred possible land use (as suggested by global land cover data), this enhancement was largely seen as a way to support policy-oriented evaluations of key outcomes, but not necessarily one to be incorporated into a global definition for the purpose of reporting on population totals.

Going forward, a refinement of the European Commission’s Degree of Urbanization Model, based on the Global Human Settlement Layer, would provide the underlying basis to distinguish between the different rural areas. An interim report on the progress toward a definition will be presented to the Inter Agency and Expert Group on Food Security, Agricultural and Rural Statistics (IAEG-AG), in the margins of the UN Statistical Commission meeting in March 2018.  At the same time, pilot-testing of the definition in a simple form and its application in organizing the key indicators will be pursued in selected countries. Further investigation of indicators for the environmental dimension and also for rural development policies at the input level will be carried out.