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The new FAO World Programme

for the Census of Agriculture 2020


by Jairo Castano

Leader, Agricultural Censuses and Surveys Team

FAO Statistics Division



Every 10 years FAO revises the countries' censuses experiences and lessons learnt, and then prepares, publishes and disseminates the revised census guidelines with improved census methodology. The WCA 2020 that will be published soon is the tenth decennial census programme. It is an international standard that is expected to drive the implementation of agricultural censuses in all countries in the period between 2016 and 2025. The WCA 2020 is occurring at a time when demand increases for integrated, synergetic and cost-efficient national agriculture statistical systems.


Main features of the new WCA 2020

The WCA 2020 is envisaged in two volumes to clearly separate two distinct aspects of the census:

Volume 1 "Programme, Definitions and Concepts" will deal with the methodological and conceptual aspects of the census of agriculture.

Volume 2 "Operational Aspects" will include the practical details on the steps involved in actually conducting an agricultural census. It is a revised and updated edition of "Conducting Agricultural Censuses and Surveys" (1995).

Below are some of the main features of Volume 1 of the new WCA 2020.

Synergies: One of the main and new features of the new programme will be its close linkage to the Global Strategy to Improve Agricultural and Rural Statistics" (2011). The census of agriculture is one of the cornerstones of the Global Strategy as a major source for the minimum set of core data and information (first pillar of the Global Strategy) and the integration of agriculture into the national statistical system through a master sample frame and an integrated survey system (second pillar).

Integration: The WCA 2020 will further emphasize the integration of the agricultural census within the overall framework of the system of integrated agricultural censuses and surveys. The programme further emphasizes the integration of the agricultural census within the overall framework of the system of integrated agricultural censuses and surveys. Countries with an established system of agricultural surveys may use the classic approach as a frame for the system while countries without such system may find the modular approach as a first step in that direction.

Methodologies: It is recognized that countries use a range of census methodological approaches according to their circumstances, development levels and needs. In this light, the WCA 2020 will feature the discussion of the two most common census methodological approaches, namely, the classic approach, which is still widely used, and the modular approach introduced in the previous census round as a cost-effective approach to collect a wider set of data.

Essential items: A new feature of the WCA 2020 will be the reintroduction of the notion of 'essential' items, and a clear distinction between 'essential' items and 'frame' items. It will be recommended that all countries collect the essential items regardless of the approach to their agricultural census, which can be classic or modular. The frame items are intended specifically for inclusion in the core module of a census using the modular approach, to provide data for the frames for the supplementary modules. In addition to the essential and frame items, other items, referred to as 'additional' items, will be presented in the census programme. These will be provided for countries wishing to collect more in-depth (supplementary) data on specific themes and are suitable for inclusion irrespective of the approach adopted for the census. The programme will have some additional themes and items to cover the data needs expressed by countries and users.

Information technology: Another feature of the WCA 2020 guidelines will be an increased emphasis on the use of information technology in data collection, processing and dissemination. The increasing use of technology in census and surveys operations results in significant efficiencies and drastically reduces the time lag between data collection and data analysis. This includes the use of computer-assisted personal interviewing (CAPI), internet-based data collection methods and geo-referencing. Similarly, the use of interactive outputs and web-based data (tables, graphs, maps) as well as access to anonymised micro-data has brought new opportunities for census dissemination. Novel and user-friendly dissemination tools support informed-decision making, unleash the analytical creativity of users, and ensure greater sustainability of agriculture statistics and their integration into the broader national statistical system. 

Other key features of the programme

The WCA 2020 will retain three key features introduced in the previous 2010 programme. Firstly, the integration between the population and housing census and the agriculture census will be re-emphasized. The integration of these two operations is further elaborated in a joint publication by FAO and the United Nations Population Fund (2012). Secondly, the possibility to collect community-level data remains in the programme due to the strong demand and increased use for this kind of data vis-a-vis the marginal field cost. Community-level data is collected with a view to building an information base on the infrastructure and services available to agricultural holdings. Thirdly, the recommendation to collect gender-disaggregated data in the census will be also retained. At the same time, the approach will be improved to facilitate the collection of such data.


The main features of Volume 1 of the census guidelines highlighted above are the result of a review of countries' experiences under the WCA 2010 round, extensive consultations with countries as well as global and regional experts and the recognition of new and emerging needs. As in the past, it is expected that countries will adapt the guidelines to meet national and international needs.



  • World Bank; FAO & United Nations Statistical Commission. 2011. Global Strategy to Improve Agricultural and Rural Statistics. Report no. 56719-GLB. Washington, DC, World Bank.
  •  FAO. 2005. A system of integrated agricultural censuses and surveys, Volume 1, World Programme for the Census of Agriculture 2010.
  •  FAO, 1995. Conducting Agricultural Censuses and Surveys, Statistical Development Series 6.​