Ladies and gentlemen,
Good morning to all of you.
First of all, allow me on behalf of Jacques Diouf, Director-General of FAO and on my own behalf, to extend a warm welcome to you all in Thailand. I and my colleagues are greatly honored and privileged to have you all here.
The 1996 World Food Summit (WFS) and the 2002 WFS: fyl affirmed that reducing hunger must be a central goal of the international development agenda. The United Nations Millennium Declaration, adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2000, reflected the WFS target by making hunger and extreme poverty reduction a primary development goal. This global commitment has been reaffirmed in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and within these, MDG-1, calling for eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, is on the top of the development agenda.
On the occasion of your workshop and considering the presence of a large group of eminent policy institutes, I should like to share with you my great hope in the growing momentum behind the MDGs and the repeated (re-)confirmations of the political commitment toward the reduction of hunger at various high-level fora. I am also encouraged by the growing expressions by many segments of civil society for the realization of the right to food and a more harmonized world. However, one notes with concern the lack of progress made in the region in reversing the growing disparity between rich and poor. At the start of a new millennium when many countries, including in Asia, were targeted by terrorist attacks, we are reminded of the urgency of being vigilant against the neglect of the plight of hundreds of destitute people. Indeed, the indifference towards the widening gap between the better-off minority and the economically deprived majority is the biggest development challenge of our times, one that could have potentially disastrous consequences for the region if left unattended.
On the occasion of the World Food Day 2003, the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific organized a Round Table for a Regional Alliance against Hunger (RAAH). Noting the initiative as timely and strategic, RT participants emphasized that hunger eradication requires policy reforms to empower the poor and to commit resources for agriculture and rural development. The RAAH Round Table recognized that governments have a major responsibility to improve the policy framework for agricultural and rural development, and to make the required investments, among others, in rural infrastructure and agricultural research. Emphasizing the private sector role and agribusiness, inter alia, in developing and disseminating improved technology and ensuring remunerative farm prices, the RAAH Round Table recommended that FAO assigns priority in providing countries with dynamic and mutually reinforcing framework of policies and actions in support of agriculture drawing from the experiences which have been successfully implemented by countries in the Asia-Pacific region.
In accord with the Rome and New York Declarations made by leaders of more than 170 countries around the globe, and more specifically the roles and responsibilities delegated to FAO in this regard, strengthening food security through sustainable agriculture and rural development is the main mission of FAO. As experience has amply shown in several Asian countries – from Japan and Korea to China, India and Viet Nam – agricultural growth is a forerunner to the overall development of the nation.
Good performance of the agriculture sector played an important role in the past economic growth in Asia. Agricultural production in this region grew at rates faster than the world average. Indices of food, crop, cereal and livestock production increased more rapidly than the world average. During the 1980s and 1990s the region achieved exponential agricultural growth rates of nearly 4 percent and above, and the growth during the last four decades averaged 3.49 percent. The Green Revolution process triggered in the mid-1960s was the engine of this transformation. Food production grew at a much faster rate of 3.57 percent than the growth of population (1.91 percent) causing a gradual increase in per capita availability of food and contributing to significant reduction in undernourishment in the region. Despite the addition of 1.4 billion people to the region’s population, average per capita food availability has increased from about 2 000 kcal/person/day in 1965–66 to over 2 600 kcal/person/day in 1999–2000. In the 1990s, the proportion of the undernourished population in the region declined from 20 to 16 percent.
Notwithstanding these achievements, the present incidence of hunger means that every sixth person in the region is still undernourished. Furthermore, the region accounts for nearly two-thirds of the undernourished population in the developing world. The performance varies considerably among countries and subregions. East and Southeast Asia have done better than South Asia. The gap between high achieving and under-performing countries is also very wide. This may be attributed to the differences in capacities as well as the approaches, policies and programmes adopted.
The population of the developing Asia-Pacific countries is projected to increase from 3.2 billion in 1997–99 to 3.9 billion in 2015 and 4.4 billion in 2030. There is an increasing trend of urbanization of the population and the pattern of food demand is changing rapidly with rising incomes. However, the relentless pursuit of intensification of agriculture, livestock and fishery to increase food production has caused adverse environmental effects. The recent outbreak of Avian flu has reinforced the need that sustainable agriculture, sound farming systems and food safety aspects should be combined with the goal of economic efficiency in organizing commercial food production and processing systems. The region’s agriculture sector is therefore faced with the multiple objectives of sustainable production growth and equitable access of food to the growing and urbanizing masses.
The FAO regional office in Bangkok initiated the establishment of a regional network of national/regional agricultural policy research centers to serve as a catalyst to strengthen policy analysis and facilitate the exchange of information and practical experiences in agricultural and rural development. Its initial focus was to understand the role and contribution of policies, markets and institutions in the dynamic transformation of agriculture in Asia and the Pacific in the 1980s and 1990s. The goal was to draw lessons and regional perspectives from the varied experiences in the region with regard to macroeconomic policy, structural adjustment, institutional reform and external shock.
FAO highly values the collaboration with policy institutes in the region. The depth and breadth of your knowledge of the countries you serve is an invaluable asset that we can draw on in policy work to our mutual advantage. Workshops with policy institutes are a great opportunity for sharing of experiences and perspectives and mutual learning. They are also distinct opportunities to know the emerging issues and priorities in different countries of the region.
The present workshop is expected to provide intellectual inputs to help shape and focus FAO country policy work in the region in coming years, as well as lead to a common policy research agenda among the institutes and centers, particularly with the Southeast Asia Research Center for Agriculture (SEARCA) and those comprising the Asia-Pacific Agricultural Policy Forum, with respect to enabling policies and programmes for sustained agricultural and rural development. It also provides a forum to discuss and prepare a regional proposal for FAO’s collaboration with these institutes on identified priority issues. This joint work, will assist FAO to enhance the provision of effective policy assistance to member countries, through strengthened collaboration and exchange of information between and among institutes from high, middle and low income countries.
In concluding, I should like to readdress that the topics you will be discussing today and tomorrow are critically important to sustainable agriculture, rural development and food security in the region. I am confident your deliberation will provide the required insight into the issues and how to address them.
I welcome you all once again, wishing you success in your endeavours and a pleasant stay in Cha Am.