Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Hiroyuki Konuma

FAO Regional Representative for Asia-Pacific

WORLD FOOD DAY

16 OCTOBER 2003

He Changchui
Assistant Director-General and FAO Regional Representative
for Asia and the Pacific

Welcome and introductory statement




May it please Your Royal Highness

Your Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn,
Your Excellency Sora-at Klinprathum, Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives,
Excellencies and Distinguished Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Honourable guests,
Colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,

On behalf of the Director-General of FAO Jacques Diouf, and on my own behalf, I have great pleasure in welcoming you all to the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific for the commemoration of World Food Day 2003 which marks the 58th birthday of FAO.

This year’s World Food Day theme, International alliance against hunger, is the call by heads of state and government from more than 170 countries assembled in Rome in June 2002 at the World Food Summit: five years later. On that occasion, they recalled the commitment to achieving food security for all and the immediate goal of halving the number of undernourished people by 2015 at the World Food Summit held in 1996. Moreover, alarmed by the painfully slow progress towards meeting the goal they themselves set, the leaders recognized the urgent need to reinforce the efforts of all concerned partners as an international alliance against hunger.

Perhaps I need not repeat the well accepted fact that the right to food is the most basic of human rights. By any reckoning, food appears very high in the hierarchy of human needs for survival and development. This message was loudly and clearly conveyed by world leaders in adopting the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger as the first and foremost Millennium Development Goal. This goal significantly groups together poverty and hunger for the simple reason that they are inseparably related and must be addressed together.

While the ugly face of urban poverty is seen in mega cities as well as in small towns of the Asia-Pacific region, poverty is mostly concentrated among agricultural households in rural areas. Urban poverty is to a large extent a byproduct of rural poverty. Marginal and small farmers and landless labourers unable to meet a minimum standard of living are forced to migrate to cities in the hope of finding jobs. Even youth from relatively well-off families with some education leave rural areas to seek greater opportunities and a better quality of life in the cities. While out-migration from the agricultural sector and rural areas is accepted by many as an expected result of economic growth, one needs to be careful in drawing easy conclusions. One needs to look deeper at policy issues to see if inequities in the terms of trade, underinvestment in the agriculture and rural sector, and other policy biases are forcing the rural poor to the cities. Furthermore, we should contemplate whether it is despair that drives these people to leave the only place they have ever known.

In this context, World Food Day is an occasion to remember that in the Asia-Pacific countries, agriculture and rural development has been the foundation for non-agricultural growth. The great cities of Asia were founded and can be sustained only by strong rural economies. Thus this is an occasion to be conscious of the realities of rural life and the hard struggle for livelihood that many rural people are condemned to.

Your Royal Highness,
Ladies and gentlemen,

The idea of the International alliance against hunger is firmly based on the great potential of the multitude of stakeholders in working together to wipe out the scourge of hunger from our midst. Mobilization of such an alliance is possible because it is in everybody’s interest. What it calls for is the recognition of the problem by the stakeholders and the awareness amongst them that their collective and individual actions can be directed at eradicating hunger without sacrificing their own objectives.

Working for an international alliance against hunger requires governments to mobilize political will and work harder to create the policy environment, provide the funding, and implement the programmes to allow people to overcome hunger and poverty. They must place the millennium development goal for the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger at the center of their development strategy and take a leading role in forging an alliance of different groups, including food producers and consumers, international organizations, governments, agribusinesses, scientists, academics, private individuals, policy makers, religious groups and non-governmental organizations.

This alliance should evolve into viable partnerships between the government, private sector, NGOs, civil society, academic institutions and the country’s development partners towards concrete actions. Among the development partners, the developed countries must fulfill their commitments to provide greater market access to agricultural products from developing countries as agreed in Doha and ensure a greater flow of resources, as assured in Monterrey. Let us hope that the failure in Cancun to reach a consensus among nations was only a temporary setback and the hopes for free and fair trade are not lost for ever. This is the hope we must embrace as this great country, which hosts the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, is hosting the summit of world leaders under the APEC forum.

On this solemn occasion, we are confident that the APEC leaders are fully conscious of their responsibilities towards the plight of the poor and the hungry and will take decisions that will contribute to the alleviation of their suffering.

From our side, the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific is initiating activities to promote a regional alliance against hunger. Tomorrow, a high-level roundtable meeting of stakeholders from the region will be held at the FAO office in Bangkok. Nine eminent personalities from Asia and the Pacific will provide intellectual inputs and policy perspectives on the regional alliance, and deliberate on effective means of cooperation and follow-up activities. The roundtable participants serve as the regional nucleus to develop a strong multi-stakeholder partnership network across countries rallying around the common cause of the eradication of hunger.

Your Royal Highness,
Ladies and gentlemen,

We are honoured today by the presence of Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. We extend our profound gratitude to Your Royal Highness, our Guest of Honour, for providing inspiration in her commitment to and leadership in fighting hunger and undernutrition, particularly among women and children. In this connection, FAO is privileged to cooperate in the Agriculture for school lunch programme – an initiative of Her Royal Highness – aimed at providing schoolchildren with knowledge about agriculture and at the same time producing food for school meals to help reduce malnutrition in remote areas in Thailand.

Hunger and malnutrition inhibit children's growth and reduce their capacity to learn. As a result, too many children die before adulthood or become adults without the capacity to reach their full potential. Too many nations are stalled on the road to development. In this time of ample food production it is unacceptable that more than 500 million people remain hungry in Asia and the Pacific. FAO is calling for action – encouraging all those concerned to join forces by working for an international alliance against hunger.

Your Royal Highness,
Excellencies,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you.