There Are Lies, Damned Lies And Then There Are African Statistics

Andrew Jack, a Financial Times (FT) correspondent opened a recent article with the following words, “"There are lies, damned lies and then there are African statistics." These harsh words were based on the review of a report by Morten Jerven, an assistant professor at the school for international studies at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, titled “Poor Numbers: How We Are Misled By African Development Statistics and What To Do About It.” Food Security Ghana (FSG) has on many occasions placed a huge question mark over the statistics on agriculture bandied about by the consecutive governments in Ghana about the “wellbeing” of agriculture. Recently Shantayanan Devarajan, chief economist of the World Bank for Africa, for example, also talked of “Africa’s statistical tragedy”. To make his point Devarajan referred to the case of Ghana, “To show that this is not an arcane point, consider the case of Ghana, which decided to update its GDP last year to the 1993 system. When they did so, they found that their GDP was 62 percent higher than previously thought. Ghana’s per capita GDP is now over $1,000, making it a middle-income country.” The seriousness of wrong information is summed up as follows by Jerven, “Numbers are too important to be ignored, and the problems surrounding the production and dissemination of numbers are too serious to be dismissed.” In a previous article by FSG titled ‘“Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics” in Ghana’ the issue of wrong agricultural information and statistics was mentioned. The point is simple - if information is incorrect it may eventually lead to the wrong allocation of scarce resources. In 2010, for example, the government reported that local rice production account for 10%, then 30% and lastly 40% of local demand. A difference of 30% in reported statistics makes a huge difference in terms of what is required to be done should the country want to achieve its objective of self-sufficiency in rice production. The fact that there is indeed a problem in agricultural statistics has fortunately been acknowledged by the Government of Ghana and in December 2012 it was announced that a Ghana Agricultural Census will be undertaken in 2013. When this announcement was made, Mr Agyeman-Dua, then Acting Deputy Government Statistician, said that there were marked differences between the production estimates of some crops derived from household survey and the data users, especially national accountants, were not sure as to which data was reliable. According to Mr. Agyeman-Dua, “A census would, therefore, not only provide us with reliable and credible data but also an indication for measuring our food security situation.” In his address Devarajan said that the “proximate causes of the problem with statistics are: weak capacity in countries to collect, manage and disseminate data; inadequate funding; diffuse responsibilities; and fragmentation, with many diffuse data collection efforts.” He continued to say that “I would submit that the underlying cause is that statistics are fundamentally political.” According to Devarajan the problem with wrong or mismanaged statistics can be attacked at its roots and he suggested three things. In the first place he says that all data should be openly accessible and transparent. According to him Kenya did and Bangladesh's central bank did this and he believes that if these countries who are not known for their strong governance performance can do it, so can others. Secondly, he recommends that standards akin to those with Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSP) whereby all statistical activities have to be filtered through the National Strategy for the Development of Statistics (NSDS). Additionally he says the NSDS should be reviewed at the highest level - analogously with the PRSP - and deviations from it should be reported at an equally high level. In the third place, Devarajan says that “the behavior of donors with respect to statistics should be evaluated, much like the Center for Global Development’s commitment to development index, and made public.” Although there are positive signs that Ghana is taking steps to tackle this serious problem, reporting on statistics with regards to agriculture will be viewed with some skepticism until the system has been “sanitised”. It can only be hoped that reporting by MOFA or its officials on agricultural statistics in Ghana will be void of political expediency with due regards to the shortcomings in the current system. _____ Also see "Africa counts the cost of miscalculations" by Andrew Jack (FT) and "Africa’s statistical tragedy" by Shanta Shantayanan Devarajan. Click on the link below to read more stories on Food Security Food Security Ghana