By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

See photos from Salzburg

Why didn’t we know about the current food crisis until the urban poor of Africa took to the streets in protest? This question exposes one of the main topics of today’s discussions: the need for better data, increased use of data and the importance of learning.

The food prices issue took everyone by surprise. But if we were doing our horizon-scanning properly, why didn’t we see it coming? There are things we know that we don’t know – but what about the things we don’t know that we don’t know, asked one delegate? We need to think a lot more about the element of surprise. There are many threats out there that we don’t know about, but we still need to be prepared.

In order to be better prepared, Africa needs to look forward, to scan the horizon to pick up trends: it needs better information. Improving data and learning and developing a learning culture is key. One delegate called for more, and better, statistics captured from world-class African universities and statistics services. At the moment, poorquality data is often poorly analysed or not analysed at all, particularly around agricultural production.

Improvements could come from boosting capacity and creating incentives for the accurate reporting of data. By improving the quality and reliability of data there will be more potential for setting benchmarks and reviewing progress, impact and outcomes, delegates heard.

Boosting learning can also mean finding out about things in a more opportunistic manner, by scouting for innovations and experiences and sharing those widely for scaling up. ‘We are not starting from scratch,’ commented one delegate.