Colleagues from UN agencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
On behalf of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, I would like to express my profound gratitude to the Department of Foreign Affairs and the ASEAN Secretariat for taking initiatives to call for this meeting. Our acceptance to facilitate this meeting disregarding the very short notice we had in front of us reflects the long-standing relations and commitments of our Member Countries embodied in the World Food Summit Declarations and the Millennium Development Goals. Let me take this opportunity to welcome all of you to the FAO-Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific.
I understand that this pre-conference meeting is an informal meeting to provide inputs into the upcoming ASEAN-UN Working Group Meeting on Food Security scheduled to be held on 11-12 November 2008 in Manila and ASEAN-UN Summit to be held in Thailand later this year. This meeting will further solidify the foundation that ASEAN and UN have already laid in preparing for a very productive cooperation between the two organizations and more importantly to address one of the main scourges of mankind: deprivation of food to a large proportion of people amidst affluence and plenty.
FAO considers this meeting to be of great significance within the mandate of the MOU signed between ASEAN and the UN on March 14, 2008, where we committed to work together to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. The time is even more pressing for action as the global community is going through series of crises which continue to undermine the achievements we have made towards MDGs. The impacts of crises, regardless of their nature, fall disproportionately on the very poor. Global food crisis was not an exception, which is now partly blamed for the number of hungry people growing by 75 million to around 925 million worldwide—and further jeopardizing the MDG target of halving hunger and poverty by 2015. It is imperative to remember that soaring food prices have made millions more people poorer, and the rising cost of food prices has forced the Asian Development Bank to raise the cut-off level for poverty from US$1 a day to US$1.35. Food crises in particular can create social tensions unless they are handled with care because millions of people who had just come out of poverty have suddenly realized that they are fallen back again to where they were before. The global community expects so much from the UN as well as other multilateral agencies to offer credible solutions and face up to these challenges.
Declining agricultural productivity and growing demand for food have brought the world food situation to crossroads, and we must act now with resolve to increase food production, taking environmental concerns into consideration, develop better food and agricultural markets through the integration of local, national, regional and global markets, develop regional food security arrangements to meet natural and man-made calamities, develop food security information systems, ensure bio-safety and bio-security of food products and control transboundary spread of diseases. More importantly, all these activities must be geared towards providing real means for millions of farmers who farm very small plots in marginal areas to reach their true potentials. The biggest impact will be felt by improving their conditions. This requires concerted action of all concerned institutions, be they national, regional or multilateral. A key factor that we need to remember is that there are no short fixes for food insecurity; it is a constant battle against the odds which can only be won with long-term planning and investment, particularly in agricultural technology and capacity building to address water and land scarcity, environmental degradation and soaring input prices.
We are gathered here today in this backdrop to think through the issues, recognize constraints and plan for a better future for the ASEAN region, and by extension, the global community. Failure to act now to change the course of events and trends will have far reaching implications on the wellbeing of the citizens of this region and far beyond. I cannot emphasize more of the need to invest more in agriculture including in technology, training and education, and capacity building. I am sure, with dedication and perseverance of professionals and other staff both in ASEAN and UN agencies, we can unravel and demystify these complex issues and identify practical measures to address the most common concerns of the citizens of this region.
The desire of DFA and the ASEAN Secretariat to convene this meeting here in Bangkok with the presence of key players itself sends a strong signal on the trust that we have on each other. ASEAN, I believe, will tell us what they expect from the UN. Appraisal on whether these expectations and targets are realistic from the point of view of the UN agencies would be equally important for ASEAN to move forward the work on food security. I hope that we will have frank and open discussions on the issues at hand so that a clear understanding on the expectations and potential for cooperation will be clear to all of us. In particular, this meeting will dwell on issues related to the ASEAN Strategic Plan of Action on Food Security and the Regional Action Plan/Programme to address food security, together with the implementation arrangements. ASEAN has always been pro-active in ensuring a region where hunger, malnutrition, deprivation and poverty are no longer basic problems.
FAO is proud to have been a partner of the ASEAN Member Countries in promoting policy dialogues and actions in food security, both at national and regional levels and hopes to continue to do so in the future. We believe that after deliberation in this Meeting, the concept note as well as the ASEAN Integrated Food Security Framework and Strategic Plan of Action will be further fleshed out with due analysis and reflection of various inter-related policy and institutional issues and concerns that would be raised by distinguished delegates that are present here today.
I would like to take this opportunity to inform the Distinguished Delegates present here that FAO successfully collaborated with the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in preparing a Regional Strategy and Programme for Food Security (RSPFS) along with project concept notes for priority areas of intervention at the regional level in South Asia. The SAARC Summit held in Colombo on 3rd August 2008 endorsed the strategy and issued the Colombo Statement on Food Security as an adjunct of official Colombo Declaration, affirming their commitment to work towards achieving the food security objectives. FAO continues to work closely with SAARC to develop these concept notes into full project proposals for funding. I am quite confident that the experience we gained through SAARC and FAO partnership on the SAARC regional strategy and programme for food security will be very relevant to the initiative launched by the ASEAN members. I therefore, wish to assure you that FAO is ready to render its full support and cooperation with ASEAN members and the ASEAN Secretariat on this endeavor.
I, once again, thank Chairperson and Distinguished Delegates for giving FAO this opportunity to host this pre-conference meeting. My technical colleagues who have for years been working closely with the ASEAN members on both regional and national technical assistance programme, covering wide areas in on agriculture, fisheries, forestry, nutrition, food safety and trade facilitation, as well as natural resource management, will share with you their first hand views and perspectives on crucial matters, chiefly relating to policy advice, knowledge development and information sharing, as well as capacity building for ASEAN members. FAO wishes to continue to work closely with the ASEAN Member Countries and the ASEAN secretariat in developing the ASEAN strategic framework of action on food security, and make our due contribution to its implementation in partnership with all stakeholders. I fully believe that together we will contribute significantly to achieving our common goals of eradicating poverty and hunger from the region, in accord with the ASEAN Vision 2020 and the World Food Summit and Millennium Declarations.
I wish the meeting success in its deliberations. Thank you very much.