Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Hiroyuki Konuma

FAO Regional Representative for Asia-Pacific

OPENING REMARKS
by
He Changchui
Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific
delivered at the

Regional Consultation on Gender Dimensions in Asian Rice Livelihood Systems in the Changing Milieu of Technologies and Economy

9 March 2004, Bangkok




Distinguished ladies and gentlemen

On behalf of Jacques Diouf, Director-General of Food and Agriculture Organization and on my own behalf, I welcome you all to this expert consultation on Gender dimensions in Asian rice livelihood systems in changing milieu of technologies and economy. We thank you all for responding to our invitation and taking time to be with us today.

In recognition of the importance of rice as provider of livelihood as well as a cultural force, the member countries of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) at the 31st session of the FAO Conference supported the resolution to request the UN General Assembly (UNGA) to declare 2004 as the International Year of Rice (IYR). Consequently, the UNGA Fifty-seventh session declared 2004 as the IYR. The declaration invites FAO to facilitate the implementation of the IYR, in collaboration with diverse development partners.

Rice is life for major populations of the world and is deeply embedded in the cultural heritage of societies. It is the staple food for more than half of the world population. When all developing countries are considered together, rice provides 27 percent of dietary energy supply and 20 percent of dietary protein intake. Rice-based production systems and their associated post-harvest operations employ nearly a billion people in rural areas in developing countries. Hence FAO’s technical framework to analyse and support sustainable rice based systems is multidimensional. These dimensions relate inter alia with the rice crop in association with culture, nutrition, agro-biodiversity, environment, employment and income, post harvest production, gender in rice farming systems, science and economic policy issues.

The fundamental objective of the IYR is to promote and help guide the efficient and sustainable development of rice and rice-based production systems now and in the future. In order to meet this overarching goal, the IYR strategy focuses on increasing public awareness at large, and include issues such as:

  • The contribution of rice-based systems for food security, better nutrition, poverty alleviation, and livelihood improvement; and
  • The diversity and complexity of rice based production systems, as well as the challenges and opportunities for the sustainable development of rice-based production systems.

This regional consultation is organised in association with International Year of Rice. For FAO it is one way to contribute to the IYR awareness objective, specifically by exploring the gender dimensions in rice livelihood systems of Asia. The United Nations and FAO focus on the rice crop comes at a crucial time when the geo-political agenda is largely dominated by other considerations such as the heightened concern about terrorism, globalisation and fair trade, and the power of information and communication technologies.

However, I should like to reiterate the urgency of being vigilant against the neglect of the plight of hundreds of million of destitute people. Indeed, the indifference towards the widening gap between the better-off minority and the economically deprived majority of the world population is the biggest development challenge of our times, one that could have potentially disastrous consequences for the world and the region if left unattended. Against this background, I have however great hope in the growing momentum behind the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and the reconfirmation of the political commitment toward the reduction of hunger at the World Food Summit: five years later. 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.

Across Asia, changing socio-political forces present both opportunities and threats to the rural communities dependent on rice based production systems. Though for over decades, rice has played a crucial role in determining the rhythm of life and livelihood of Asians, current global events present challenges that call for a review of the Asian situation in rice based livelihood systems. Such review would facilitate forging strategies to preserve the best from the past and alter today’s impediments to foster prosperity among the households dependent on a rice based livelihood.

These days, it is true that the livelihood of small and subsistence rice farmers faces challenges of sustainability and economic viability. Livelihood vulnerability in the rice farming systems cannot be ignored as well as gender dimensions in rice farming systems. Within these vulnerable production systems, women play pivotal roles as agricultural labourers and processors. In Asia – though diversity exists as determined by various socio-economic and asset holdings situations of farm households – women make significant contributions to the total labour force in rice production. It should be emphasized that due to women’s hard work in the rice paddies, many countries in the region have become rice exporters. In rice farms of Asia, the indigenous knowledge of rice varieties, seed selection and preservation are largely the domain of women. In this connection, it would be apt to declare that the foundations of rice based systems are provided by the unpaid work of rural women. They make up the key human resource component and their contributions are crucial to further improve the economic situation both among local communities and at national level.

Alas, the female rice farmers are statistically un- or under-counted, largely overlooked in the policy arena and consistently underserved by agricultural and rural support services. Hence, gender differentiated analysis and programme approaches should be integral elements of any situation review and for generating new strategies for the prosperity of rice farming households, in particular during the present IYR. This is the background for your present consultation, whose outcome will allow a better understanding for FAO and its development partners of the relevant gender dimensions.

FAO is therefore eagerly looking forward to your contributions. The consultation brings together 16 participants as country experts and resource persons, together with another 14 observers from various organizations such as the United Nations, academic institutions and civil society. Together you are representing governments, non-governmental organizations and research institutions. Convinced that this judicious mix will encourage diversity and deepen the dialogue, FAO furthermore hopes that your diverse perspectives, inter-disciplinary expertise and professional experiences will merge to forge pragmatic recommendations to improve the situation of women in rice livelihood systems. While you are here as a group of experts exploring a technical subject, namely gender dimensions in rice livelihood systems, we also consider you as emissaries to support and strengthen gender equality in agriculture and rural development in your respective countries. Your efforts in your countries in this technical area will contribute to the advancement of rural women in the region. So we seek your collaboration in advancing the national agenda for improving the situation of rural women.

I wish you all an interesting and productive consultation and also a pleasant stay in Bangkok.

Again I thank you for being with us today.