Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Hiroyuki Konuma

FAO Regional Representative for Asia-Pacific


He Changchui
Assistant Director-General and
Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific

at the

World Water Day


Launch of the International Water Decade: ‘Water for Life 2005-2015’

ESCAP Hall, Bangkok, Thailand
22 March 2005

Mr Chairperson
Ladies and gentlemen,
Dear participants,

It is a pleasure for me to be invited to deliver a speech on Water for food security on the occasion of the launch of the International Decade Water for Life 2005-2015.

The momentum, shared goals and partnerships forged at international conferences at the end of the previous millennium – such as the UN Conference on Environment and Development, the World Food Summit, and the World Summit of Sustainable Development – and associated conventions covering environmental, scientific and social dimensions, all point to the necessity for an integrated approach towards poverty eradication, livelihoods and food security, sustainable agriculture and rural development, the advancement of women as well as gender and socio-economic dimensions of poverty; and more equitable access to land and other natural resources. It is now time to strengthen the action plans and forge enhanced modalities for cooperation at all levels to successfully achieve our respective missions and shared goals.

Challenges ahead

The challenge for agriculture over the medium to long term is to satisfy increasing and diversified demands for food and other products---production of food crops in developing countries is projected to increase by 67 percent between 2000-2030. Agricultural sector not only needs to aim at reducing the number of vulnerable and undernourished people and improving rural livelihoods, but also contributing to conserving natural resources and ensuring food quality and safety of new technologies.

New technologies and approaches aimed at increased productivity of land, water and labor, application of biotechnology, access, conservation and sustainable use of genetic resources, livelihoods diversification and enterprise development, all these should provide the basis for future sustained increases in food production to meet projected demand beyond the medium term.

In the water sector, appropriate policies and good governance practices are needed to encourage and guide farmers to make better use of water. These include conservation agriculture, production diversification, and good agricultural practices for food quality and safety. FAO gives emphasis to improved irrigation and water management technologies, efficient water management and related water resources policy and institutional reform.

Water is the lifeblood of agriculture

Nature does not always supply water adequately and timely to crops. Water control is critically important for food security. Water eco-systems also significantly contribute to food security by the production of aquatic resources. Many of the 852 million undernourished people in the world live in water-scarce regions; 519 million of those live in developing countries in our region.

In the last 40 years, irrigation made a very important contribution to the reduction of the number of undernourished people by raising crop yields, allowing intensive land use, adding reliability to food supply systems and farm incomes. Currently, irrigated agriculture is practiced on 20 percent of all arable land but accounts for 40 percent of all crop production and almost 60 percent of cereal production in developing countries.

Without guaranteed access to water and major irrigation programmes, the green revolution would not have been possible. The most dramatic effect of irrigation has been to keep food prices down to levels affordable to the poor. Without more irrigation many countries will be unable to achieve the agricultural and economic growth rates required to achieve food security and reduce poverty. It is therefore imperative that attention is paid to water’s critical role in poverty alleviation, food security and economic growth.

Agriculture is facing a water crisis

Agriculture is the largest water consumer in the world, accounting for 80 percent of fresh water withdrawals in our region, and will continue to be the main water user. To meet future food needs, FAO projects a 14 percent increase of agricultural water withdrawals in 93 developing countries, and 45 million ha of net expansion of global irrigation area from 2000 to 2030. Seventy percent of the expected increase in cereal production is attributed to irrigation.

However, agriculture is currently facing a water crisis, especially in our region. Overuse and misuse of irrigation water has caused water wastage and contamination; unsustainable agricultural practices have induced land and water degradation; intensive use of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides can damage surface and groundwater irrevocably. Water-related ecosystems and environmental problems become a rising public concern. There has been a significant fall in the share of irrigation and drainage lending by international institutions during the past two decades. Allocations of water out of agriculture to other higher utility uses are already taking place.

To enable agriculture systems to be more responsive to these challenges, to justify continuous allocation of limited water resources to the agriculture sector, action must be taken to improve efficiency and productivity of agriculture water use while meeting the requirements of environmental and ecosystem protection.

Integrated water resources management is the key solution

The agriculture sector needs to link the central task of providing water services to good agricultural practices. It needs to integrate into basin-level water resources management to secure optimal supply, sustainable use and integrated management of water resources and to achieve substantial production increases and diversification of farm income.

Irrigated agriculture systems should aim at improve water use efficiency and productivity and irrigation service through irrigation modernization, including adoption of modernized design concepts, rehabilitation and upgrading of infrastructure, management reform and technical innovations.

Rain-fed agricultural systems should aim at better use of natural rainfall through soil and water conservation, adoption of drought tolerant crops and development of water harvesting systems.

The livestock and agro-processing industries must also reduce their ecosystem impact and become good water citizens.

Integrated pest management could be adopted to reduce the pollution of surface and groundwater bodies by agriculture chemical inputs.

FAO in action

FAO has been actively engaged in a number of programmes on agriculture water resources development, management and conservation. Examples in the Asia region are the ongoing national Special Programmes for Food Security in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia and Laos which all are focusing on water for food security.

At the international level, early this year an International Conference on Water for Food and Ecosystems was jointly organized by the Government of the Netherlands and FAO in Hague. The conference identified specific actions to enable an integrated management of water for food and ecosystems and focused on the implementation of international commitments.

The FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific has drawn up a Regional Strategic Framework which acts as a guide for addressing persistent problems of poverty and hunger – despite Asia-Pacific’s rapid political, social and economic progress.

The six priority programme areas contained in the regional strategic framework includes, in one way or another, water issues. The common objective, however, in the area of agricultural water use efficiency and conservation is participatory, equitable and effective water management.

In this respect, FAO offers technical assistance to its members and development partners, provides advice on policy development, helps in building capacities and institutions, and facilitates transfer of knowledge and technologies.

Relevant resources mobilization and project implementation are undergoing, especially on dissemination of irrigation modernization concepts and technologies, integrated watershed management strategies, studies on water quality control and development of small-scale low-cost irrigation systems.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Over-exploitation of water and land degradation are aggravated by the lack of clearly defined property rights and vague institutional arrangements. A growing number of industries and residential users compete for limited water supplies. Water shortages have triggered conflicts, affecting agriculture. Tensions and conflicts on water are becoming more and more acute. Of particular concern is the long-term impact on the ability to feed all of use, the impact on global and universal food security.

The serious drought currently prevailing in South-East Asia, hits 70 of Thailand's 76 provinces, affects 8.3 million Thai people. It is also affecting Cambodia and Vietnam. This should ring a bell.

Water development is a priority area for FAO. We stand ready to further intensify our activities in the region in support of the governments, local communities and other partners to reach the Millennium goals of food security and poverty alleviation.

Thank you for your attention.