ROME – Free and open access is being granted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (F.A.O.) to its central data repository, FAOSTAT, which is the world's largest and most comprehensive statistical database on food, agriculture, and hunger, the U.N. agency announced.

It was previously possible to download without charge a limited amount of information from FAOSTAT – which contains more than one million data points covering 210 countries and territories -- but access to larger batches of statistics required a paid annual subscription.

"We are now providing totally free access to this immense pool of data," said Hafez Ghanem, F.A.O. 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."

This move is part of an ongoing F.A.O. 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 F.A.O.'s members in 2008, Mr. Ghanem noted.

"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," said Pietro Gennari, F.A.O. 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.”

Information contained in FAOSTAT gives developing countries the intelligence needed to participate in and benefit from international trade in an effective and competitive manner, F.A.O. relays. Donor countries can also use it to identify specific sectors where aid might be most effectively targeted.

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, among other things.

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.

Current subscribers who will now have free access to FAOSTAT include international news agencies, development institutions, universities, government ministries and international organizations.