First of all, it is my pleasure to welcome all of you to Bangkok, and to express my sincere gratitude and appreciation to you, for taking time off your busy schedules to participate in this Regional Workshop to Promote Agro-Industrial Policy Measures for Micro, Small and Medium Food Processing Enterprises in the Asian Region. I wish to acknowledge and thank the Asia-Pacific Rural Agricultural Credit Association (APRACA) for their collaboration and support in organizing this Workshop.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Today, the world produces more or less sufficient food to meet the demand of its current population of 7 billion. However, 12.5 percent of the global population, or 868 million people, equivalent to one in eight people, are food insecure. And in 2012, Asia and the Pacific Region, was recorded as having 62 percent of the world’s undernourished, the equivalent of 536 million people. While the region showed rapid economic growth in the first decade of the 2000s, successes achieved in economic growth have not resulted in alleviating hunger and poverty - rather they have resulted in the inequitable distribution of the benefit of economic growth, widening income disparity and inequality in many least developed countries and in middle income countries of the region. According to UNESCAP statistics, an estimated 653 million people across the region were living below the national poverty line in 2010.
Nevertheless, over the past decade, rapid income growth in most emerging and developing countries of the region has brought about robust increases in per capita food consumption. Along with the changes in consumption trends, purchasing patterns in urban centres of the region are also changing with increased shopping for food in hyper and supermarkets and increased storage of food in the home. Significant quantities of food (fresh and processed) procured by households are increasingly thrown away or wasted due to over-buying, poor storage, failure to consume or confusion over expiration dates. Not only do these wastes represent a waste of money, but they are becoming a problem in landfills and they are a source of green house gas emissions. And, when we think about the number of undernourished in the region, we must think of better ways of maximizing the use of our food, rather than wasting it.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Yet another change brought about by urbanization across the region is the shift away from traditional time-intensive food preparation, to an increasing demand for ready-to-cook and ready-to-eat foods that are safe and packaged in convenient formats. Given the strong culture of food in this region, consumers continue to show a preference for foods that are culturally accepted. Higher income consumers increasingly demand that these products are suitably packaged, labeled and branded. Lower income consumers continue to purchase these culturally accepted foods in traditional markets, largely due to the affordability of these foods and to cultural preference.
The micro small and medium food enterprise (MSMFE) sector plays a critical role and has a comparative advantage in meeting consumer needs for these culturally accepted foods. MSMFEs contribute significantly to the nutrition and food security of the poor while adding value to the raw material outputs of the region and reducing food losses. From a development perspective, MSMFEs also tremendously benefit national economies by generating off-farm employment opportunities.
With increasing consumer demand for higher quality and safer products that are branded and conveniently packaged in urban centers, there is the risk that MSMFEs could lose their market share owing to competition from imports. It is, therefore, imperative that MSMFEs strive to maintain a competitive edge through: product, process and packaging innovation that is appropriate to the needs of their varied target markets; increasing the efficiency of their operations; promoting resource efficiency within their operations; reducing waste generation and upgrading the technologies used in their processing operations to improve the safety and quality of their outputs. Attention must also be paid to improving administrative and logistical efficiencies in MSMFE operations and MSMFEs must also seek to improve their input supply chains and place greater emphasis on product safety and quality. By working together, MSMFEs can also learn from each other and exchange ideas.
Cooperation with other MSMFEs and/or larger enterprises in packaging, can, for example, enable MSMFEs to specialize in using their comparative advantage in producing high quality culturally accepted products while allowing the partnering enterprise to focus on packaging, for a win-win situation that improves efficiency and the quality of the final output.
Agro-industrial policy initiatives and an enabling environment that bring in a specific focus on MSMFEs will play a critical role in helping to attain and maintain a competitive edge.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
FAO recognizes the critical importance of a multi-stakeholder platform in elaborating the issues that confront MSMFEs. For this reason, we have brought together today, this diversified group of stakeholders that includes representatives of MSMEs, governments, and academics associated with policy studies as well as with agro-industries development.
Your discussions and deliberations over the next two days will consider the critical issues that impact on the competitiveness of the MSMFE sector, as well as proven models of good practice in the region, with the objective of coming up with policy recommendations geared toward growing and supporting agro-industry development across the region.
I encourage you to actively participate in these important discussions, to come up with concrete recommendations on policy options and reforms for improving the enabling policy and institutional environment to support the development of the MSMFEs in the region.
I wish you success in your deliberations and look forward to learning of the outcomes of your deliberations.