Viroch Impithuksa, President, Kasetsart University,
Ladies and gentlemen,
In the 21st century, agriculture has become a science, knowledge and information based sector. Against this backdrop, it is a great pleasure for me to be here today to deliver a keynote speech on this occasion recognizing twenty-five years of contribution to agricultural development from one of Asia’s premier centers for agricultural knowledge and information. One of FAO’s longest running and most important partnerships in the area of knowledge management is the one with the Thai National AGRIS Centre. This collaboration has benefited not only our two organizations, but also Thailand’s vast and rich farming communities, and agricultural communities throughout Asia and the rest of the world with access to agricultural knowledge – the key to sustainable rural development and economic growth.
How will agriculture in this century be increasingly driven by science and knowledge? Look at what is going on around us at this university. Technologies are designed and packaged for a holistic approach towards people and the environment. Increasingly, innovations in technology have greatly benefited production systems and new knowledge is developed around the most promising and fastest growing segments of economies, such as the biotechnology or the livestock sectors.
Agricultural production will more than ever need to respond not only to local markets, but to regional and global demands both in quantity and quality in order to remain competitive and economically sound. Future research, development and policies will take into account the entire chain from the physical environment to consumption and public health, rather than looking at agriculture in isolation, placing a greater demand on researchers and policy makers to be informed. In this connection, FAO is advocating good practices at all levels of food production, processing, transportation, storage and marketing for the agricultural, livestock, fisheries and associated industries.
Information and information technology is one of the three pillars in modern management and decision-making support systems. Precise and timely information is the basis for scientific and sound decisions. In the aftermath of the Avian Influenza and Asia tsunami, I should like to stress that information and communication technologies play an increasingly critical role in times of crisis and natural disasters. The essential role of information has indeed been exposed by the tragic events of the tsunami that struck Thailand and other countries in the region on 26 December 2004. In the short-term, information is required for an appropriate emergency response to the disaster. In the medium and longer term, knowledge and technology are essential for the restoration of people’s livelihoods, sustainable rehabilitation and reconstruction, and continuing economic development.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Poverty and hunger are closely inter-twined and increase the risks of social unrest. Most urban poor are basically migrants from rural areas, hungry people who have migrated to megacities in their desperate search for a better life. Only sustainable agriculture and rural development – not food aid – can help to alleviate poverty, rehabilitate devastated rural areas and reduce out migration to cities. Agricultural technology and information, when properly disseminated, can enable people to improve their capacity, strengthen their livelihoods, offer empowerment and alternatives to the downward cycles caused by poverty and food insecurity.
Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn has shown great foresight in recognizing the evolution of the ‘knowledge society’ and in focusing on the importance of extending the knowledge society not only within urban areas, but to rural and agricultural communities. She is graciously supporting several information technology and agricultural initiatives.
It is the responsibility, indeed the duty of the institutions and organizations represented here today to follow this lead and further expand the movement to empower the growth of a knowledge-based society in our agricultural communities.
FAO has specifically recognized the need of agricultural communities in its framework for Bridging the Rural Digital Divide, which was launched last year at the World Summit on the Information Society and introduced to ministers attending FAO’s 27th Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific in Beijing in 2004. This framework brings together FAO and its partners to work on an integrated set of activities to bridge the rural digital divide by strengthening human and institutional capacities to harness knowledge and information more effectively.
FAO is working with member countries such as China and India to develop a set of case studies on information and communication networks in rural communities. These cases serve as examples of successful dissemination of information and knowledge to farming communities and support models of development. Discussions have begun to add cases from Thailand to this repertoire.
FAO has also spearheaded and supports initiatives to improve access to agricultural research through AGRIS and AGORA. AGRIS, the international information system for agricultural sciences and technology, is a multilingual resource with more than 2.3 million publication records, available free to all. In the past three years, FAO has organized or supported seven workshops in the region to build capacity in electronic documentation and bibliographic data management. Two of the workshops were held in Thailand, one for training regional AGRIS centers including the Thai National Centre, and one national workshop organized by the Thai Centre with FAO’s support.
Last year FAO and its partners launched AGORA, which provides access to over 400 journals from major scientific publishers in the fields of food, agriculture, environmental science and related social sciences for qualifying institutions in 69 of the world’s least developed countries.
Through the WAICENT framework, FAO disseminates agricultural information resulting from its own normative activities, various projects and the works of other respected resources such as the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. These important resources are made available in print, online and through various forms of electronic media. The FAO web site, one of the organization’s primary information resources had more than 64 million hits from 2.8 million visitors in February 2005.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I encourage the government and national institutions to strengthen the political will and commitment required for investing in agricultural knowledge and information, for this dedication to the agricultural sector is a firm basis for long-term poverty reduction, sustainable development and stable economic growth.
In the face of the increasing demands for technology and information, it is essential that resources for agricultural research and information dissemination are not allowed to wane in the favour of other interests. Countries in Asia-Pacific will need to be ever vigilant to meet these challenges. As essential as continued support to research is, equally important is the often over looked support to preserving and disseminating information and knowledge. This is critical, for it is through exposure to information and knowledge that livelihoods are improved, economies grow, and new discoveries are made.
Familiarizing our young people with today’s technology and information is particularly important. FAO supported the Youth Innovation Year 2004 programme in Thailand, which encouraged rural youth to innovate and create projects good for society as well as themselves. As a part of the Youth Innovation Year, FAO awarded three project proposals presented by promising groups of young Thais, all making use of information and technology to promote farming communities and rural development.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Now more than ever is it important that we focus on the development of tools and contents needed to enable a regional and global sharing of agricultural information and knowledge. To succeed in this endeavour, it is essential that we work as partners and continue our collaboration in the service of rural communities and farmers.
We at FAO congratulate the Thai National AGRIS Centre and Kasetsart University for their contributions to agricultural knowledge and information over the past twenty-five years. You are a cornerstone of the global agricultural information network. I trust you will maintain this leading position as an agricultural information resource and developer of information management tools for the next twenty-five years. FAO continues to stand at your side for working with you in these important efforts.