Poverty, as both a cause and an effect of food insecurity, continues to be a major challenge in Asia and the Pacific where the bulk - approximately 75 percent - of the poor in developing countries are located. In this region, as elsewhere in the developing regions of the world, poverty is mainly a rural phenomenon: nearly three-fourths of the poor live in rural areas, with the large majority of them dependent on agriculture for employment and income. Agricultural growth thus offers a potentially enormous source of poverty reduction, particularly when the growth is broadly based.
The lingering Asian economic crisis heightens the critical role that the agriculture, fisheries and forestry sector plays in the way to economic recovery. More than ever, the sector is called upon to absorb unemployed people forced out of the industrial and services sectors (as well as new entrants to the labour force unable to find work in urban areas), produce more export crops for foreign exchange, increase domestic food supply to mitigate upward pressure in wages and prices, and generate domestic sources of investment.
At the same time, the crisis has the potential of obscuring lessons from recent decades of Asian experience vis-à-vis poverty alleviation and economic development. For example, it has become fashionable, at least in popular discussions, to belittle the importance of economic growth - especially one resembling the recent East Asian experience - in poverty alleviation. The crisis has also given an opportune window to supporters of status quo to question or even be more skeptical about the benefits of economic liberalisation and globalisation, i.e., the opening up of goods, labour, capital, and services markets to world trade. Indeed calls for reversal - or slowdown - of liberalisation efforts have intensified in developed and developing countries alike, especially as the same East Asian economies that openly welcomed globalisation were the first to tumble in the wake of the regional crisis. But as Amartya Sen aptly put it, it would be a great mistake to underestimate what East Asia did achieve.
Beyond the Asian crisis, enormous development problems and policy challenges await the developing countries of the region. Rising population, shrinking agricultural land, increasing demands on limited water resources from the expanding urban and industrial sector, widespread land degradation, and inadequacy of governance infrastructure appear to be more pressing now than ever before, especially as they mount efforts to recover lost grounds arising from the crisis and deepen their integration with the world economy. As recent experience suggests, these issues cannot be divorced from policy concerns impinging on poverty and food security.
This Report assesses recent experiences, policies, and select issues on poverty alleviation in Asian developing countries. It shows that the preparation for success in food security and poverty alleviation, which - notwithstanding the crisis - the East Asian countries made, was not only just the opening up to the world economy but also the laying of solid foundations for agricultural growth, rural transformation, and social development, especially basic education, nutrition, health care, land reform, and infrastructure. This Report is thus useful and timely, as it not only brings out lessons learned, and hence, informs country-specific food security policies, but also identifies programmes and measures that can be best carried out at the regional level.
Assistant Director General
and Regional Representative
for Asia and the Pacific