Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Hiroyuki Konuma

FAO Regional Representative for Asia-Pacific

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

Delivered at
The Enlarged IFA Council Meeting 2003
Bangkok Thailand
9 December 2003 

The Role of Industry in International Alliance Against Hunger
In the Asia and the Pacific Region

First of all, I thank Mr. Luc Maene, Director-General of International Fertilizer Industry Association (IFA) for inviting me to deliver a keynote address at this year’s Enlarged Council Meeting of IFA being held here in Bangkok. As FAO’s Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific Region with its head office based here in Bangkok, it is my pleasure to welcome you all to this beautiful Capital city of Kingdom of Thailand.

Let me begin by recalling the key commitments to fighting against hunger undertaking by the governments and international communities and the major progresses achieved so far in implementing these commitments.

The agreed target for food security

At the 1996 World Food Summit (WFS), 185 heads of states or their high-level representative unanimously affirmed their” common and national commitment to achieving food security for all. They pledged “ to eradicate hunger in all countries “ and adopted a Rome Declaration on World Food Security and the World Food Summit Plan of Action, which established a target of reducing the number of undernourished people by half, within a 20 year time frame, i.e., from 800 million of 1992 level to 400 million by 2015.

The Millennium Summit held in September 2000, adopted a target of reducing by half the proportion of the poor and hunger by 2015 under the primary goal of eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. Another directly related target is to half the proportion of the people without sustainable access to safe drinking water in achieving the goal of ensuring environmental sustainability.

The progress—a regional perspective

The World Food Summit target was reiterated at the WFS: fyl held again in Rome in June 2002 with the objective to reconfirm the political will and financial support from governments and international communities. This follow-up summit was necessitated by rising concerns that the target would not be met until 2030 if the world community retains a business-as-usual approach. In specific term, the original target called for an average yearly reduction of 20 million to attain the WFS goal. The latest FAO assessment however indicates that, although the total number of undernourished has declined since WFS, the annual reduction is only 2.1 million, or less than one-tenth the required number to meet the target.

The Asia and Pacific region is home to 800 million poor, out of the 1.2 billion world-wide. It has 505 million hungry people representing some 63 percent of the undernourished people in the world. The rate of hunger reduction in the Asia and Pacific region has been slow and uneven. It has fallen short of the annual requirement of a reduction by 14 million. In term of underweight children, between the early and late 1990s the proportion fell only from 35 to 31 percent, while the proportion of people whose intake of calories is insufficient to meet their daily minimum daily energy requirements is estimated to have fallen from 20 to 16 percent between the early and late 1990s.

The performance in hunger reduction varies considerably among countries and sub regions, and the gap between high achieving nations and under-performing nations is very wide. East and Southeast Asia have done better than South Asia, with a sharp reduction of 58 million in the number of undernourished people in China alone. If that figure is excluded, there has been an actual increase of 40 million undernourished people in the rest of the developing world. In fact, out of a total of 96 developing countries, only 19 countries are on track in achieving the WFS targets. On the other end of the scale are 26 countries where the number of the undernourished increased over the nine years period since the WFS. Preliminary analysis suggests a number of factors that may have contributed to success in some countries and setbacks in others. Not surprisingly, the countries that succeeded in reducing hunger also exhibited significantly higher economic growth. Countries where the number of hungry people increased, on the other hand, experienced more food emergencies and higher rates of HIV infection.

In percentage terms, Sub-Sahara Africa continues to have the highest incidence of undernourishment, since 33 percent of its population is chronically undernourished. South Asia has 293 million or 37 percent of all the undernourished people in the developing world as a whole, although the comparable percentage is only 22.

The world community will not be able to achieve the target of halving the number of hungry people by 2015 or even fifteen years later by 2030. Under the present scenario, the world will still have more than 600 million hungry people by 2015, if no actions are taken to reverse the trends. Indeed, closer analysis reveals that these numbers mask an even more alarming trend. If the nine-year period is divided in half, figures for the developing countries as a whole indicate that the number of undernourished has actually increased by 4.5 million per year during the most recent sub-period from 1995-1997 to 1999-2001. The development is in sharp contrast to a series of high level commitments made in Rome, New York and Johannesburg. Hence the need to identify the causes why the world is moving towards more, rather than less hunger and then to identify policies and actions that must be taken at the national and international level to reverse this trend and move towards the WFS target at the required pace.

As a result of FAO’s assessment of the painfully slow progress towards meeting the WFS target, the average annual rates of hunger reduction were increased, first from 20 million to more than 22 million during the 2002 WFS: fyl, and at present stands at 26 million a year, more than 12 times the actual pace achieved to date. This revision underscores the urgent need to reinforce the policy initiatives to address the problems of hunger and food security. In particular, it requires the efforts of all concerned partners through an International Alliance against Hunger.

The contribution of mineral fertilizer to agriculture production

The ability of modern agriculture to increase food production and resources productivity has some times casted significant costs to natural resources and environment due to increased or intensified inputs. The fertilizer industry has long been a recognized contributor to agriculture economic growth. However, increasing concern over agricultural production growth verse sustainability issues has lead critics to repeatedly caution today about their environmental integrity. As Dr. Louise Fresco, Assistant Director-General of Agriculture Department has pointed out that: “there is still a lot of misunderstanding and confusion about the mineral fertilizers. The public needs objective, science-based information from all partners involved in nutrient management”.

We all agree that agriculture has to evolve to response to demographic and economic development trends. World population will probably peak at 8 billion around 2003, when two out of every three people would likely live in towns and cities. Rising income would create a disproportionably higher demand for food and it is projected that food production will needs to increase by about 60% in the next 30 years or so. The bulk of the increase in production will mainly come from developing countries through intensification of agriculture and better management of land and water resources, with the remaining part coming from an expansion in harvest land.

In the case of Asia, intensification is more needed than elsewhere, due to several factors: per capita arable and permanent crop land availability in the region is only 0.16 ha, compared to0.37 ha in the rest of the world; negative environmental externalities from agriculture, such as chemicals due to proximity of urban centers( 13 out of the 23 mega-cities of at least eight million people each are in the region); fragile eco-system even in high potential production areas in terms of water resources, sloping land and coastal zones that are prone to run off and soil erosion. The need to increase output per unit of labour is required because of increasing wage competition from non-agricultural sector and the migration of rural population to urban areas as well as agricultural diversification to meet increasing urban and export demands and high quality standards. All these will require special attention to tailor made solutions for fertilizer application.