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

Delivered to the

IWMI-FAO Workshop on Trends and Transitions in Asian Irrigation:
What are the Prospects for the Future?

 FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok
19-21 January 2009

Dr Molden, Deputy Director General, International Water Management Institute
Dr Gopalakrishnan, Secretary General, International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage
Dr Godaliyaddha, Director of the Department of Irrigation of Sri Lanka
Dr To Trung Nghia, Director, Institute for Water Resources Planning of Vietnam
Dr Panella, Water Resource Specialist of the Asian Development Bank
Dr Gao, Professor Dukhovny
Dear Colleagues from ADB, IFPRI, AIT, IWMI, NAHRIM, CEDAC, IFAS and FAO,
Distinguished participants,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I am honoured to welcome you all, on behalf of the Asian Development Bank, the International Water Management Institute and FAO, to this workshop on Trends and transitions in Asian irrigation: what are the prospects for the future?

I am very pleased to host this workshop in my office, as the issues that the workshop will address and the questions which the participants will assist us in answering, are of key interest to FAO, especially in the present circumstances, on which I will elaborate later. We have been working on these questions over the past several years.

In this connection, I should like to stress that our partnership with IWMI on water and food has always been very significant. FAO is one of the sponsors of and has provided significant contributions to key elements to the work during this workshop. At the regional level, our partnership with IWMI is gaining momentum. FAO and IWMI have jointly launched, at the 1st Asia Pacific Water Summit at Beppu, in December 2007, an initiative on re-inventing irrigation and agricultural water governance in the Asia Pacific to meet the Millennium Development Goals.

Last week, IWMI and FAO were attending a workshop in Singapore to discuss their contributions, in partnership, to the Asia Water Development Outlook 2010 led by the Asian Development Bank. I would like to warmly commend ADB for their leadership role in the water sector in the region, for commissioning this study and sponsoring this workshop. FAO is looking forward to enhanced cooperation with ADB on regional knowledge synthesis and capacity building in agriculture and natural resources, of which this project is a fine example, as I had the opportunity to discuss recently with the ADB Vice-President for Knowledge Management here in Bangkok.

This morning, right after my speech, we will launch the IWMI-FAO Asia Pacific Water Forum Knowledge Hub for Irrigation Service Reform. It is very auspicious for this Knowledge Hub that this workshop will be the first concrete event for this Knowledge Hub.

And later today, FAO’s Senior Water Management Officer Thierry Facon will present to you the results of a regional workshop on the future of large rice-based systems in Southeast Asia of 2005. We have also organized, in 2006, with the Chinese Government, a similar workshop focused on arid regions in Shanxi Province. Over the last ten 10 years, developing tools, analyses, and regional capacity for the modernization of irrigation has been and remains a key priority of this office.

Many of you and your organizations have been long-time partners of FAO on agricultural water management, globally and in the region, with whom we have on-going cooperation. I am pleased to meet new experts and organizations at the occasion of this workshop. We hope that you will all join IWMI and FAO in these important regional initiatives which I have just mentioned.

Food security is at the heart of FAO's efforts. As population grows and pressure on natural resources increases, meeting the Millennium Development Goals and World Food Summit target of halving the number of undernourished in the region by 2015 is an enormous challenge. Over 500 million people, accounting for 16 percent of the population of the developing countries of the region were still malnourished. Unfortunately, this is an area of the Millennium Development Goals where the region is not witnessing progress, but substantial regression. Because of soaring food prices, FAO estimates that, of the 71 million of additional malnourished people in 2007, 41 million were located in Asia. This represents an increase of more than half a percentage point. In addition, during 2008 another 40 million were added to the ranks of the hungry at the global level, a major proportion of which belong to Asia.

The international community and governments in the region are mobilizing to address the challenge of increased food insecurity. At the High-Level Conference of Rome, in June 2008, significant commitments were made to support increased investment in the agricultural sector. Investment in irrigation was flagged by many as an urgent priority. Indeed, many governments in the region have indicated that investment in the sector was a priority to address food security. FAO’s Initiative on Soaring Food Prices is assisting a number of countries to develop short, medium and long-term plans with significant irrigation investment components, as well as necessary policy measures.

However, increasing the volume of investment is not sufficient. It is imperative also to revisit policy and reform options, to ensure that new investments – from all sources, that will take place in the region – will actually achieve their intended social, economic and environmental outcomes. This is why this workshop is very timely and FAO hopes that the workshop will provide useful guidance on future investment in the region.

While the food crisis has exacerbated the challenges faced by the region, the present situation also provides opportunities. Opportunities we should not squander. This workshop provides a useful opportunity to revisit both challenges and

opportunities. As agriculture so dominates the water sector in the region with over 80 percent of freshwater withdrawals, it is a key area for reform, strategic investment and capacity building, not only for achieving food security, but also for moving towards integrated water resources management and benefiting other sectors, including the environment.

Climate change is exasperating our challenges and the potential impact is there and clear. If the ability to grow food is weakened by climate change, the health and livelihoods of millions of people will be at risk. According to a recent study, the production of rice and wheat could fall by 8 percent and 32 percent respectively by 2050. Studies from a growing number of countries show similar alarming findings. The increased incidence of natural disasters is another major concern. Cyclones Sidr and Nargis, the contributions that droughts and floods have made to the recent food crisis is a grim reminder of the potential impact of water-related natural disasters on food security.

Increasing the effectiveness of food production is therefore vital; and improving water productivity in both rain-fed and irrigated agriculture is a key requirement. We must focus on the major food baskets of the region such as tropical deltas and large-scale irrigation systems as well as on vulnerable arid and mountainous areas. Many measures to improve agriculture water management which you will discuss at this workshop will touch on effective adaptation measures and mitigation strategies. This makes their adoption even more critical and urgent.

As importantly, sustainable food production will also only occur through sustainable ecosystems. This requires a new approach to agricultural water management which recognizes the need to conserve the ecosystems, and to nurture the positive ecosystem services of agriculture.

Distinguished participants,
Dear colleagues and friends,
Ladies and gentlemen,

You are a group of high level experts representing key disciplines and areas of knowledge and action needed to answer the questions posed at the workshop, and provide guidance to ADB, IWMI and FAO for the work ahead of us. You also make up a balanced geographic representation of a great and varied region. I am therefore confident that this workshop will be very productive and I convey all my best wishes for its success. My staff will do their utmost to ensure that this workshop and your stay in Bangkok will also be a pleasant experience.

Thank you.