Your Royal Highness, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn,
Your Excellency, Deputy Minister Sompat Kaewpichit
Honourable Academician Xu Guanhua,
Ladies and gentlemen,
On behalf of the Director-General of FAO, Jacques Diouf, my colleagues 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 this year's World Food Day.
We are especially honoured by the presence of Her Royal Highness, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, whose gracious presence is a great inspiration to all of us. We also highly appreciate the attendance of HE Sompat Kaewpichit, Deputy Minister for Agriculture and Cooperatives of Thailand and the Honourable Academician Xu Guanhua, Chairperson of the Subcommittee of Education, Science, Culture, Health and Sports, National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.
Since 1981, every year we observed World Food Day in this room, on this day. Rarely has it assumed greater meaning than this year when high food prices are causing an increase in the number of hungry people. This year, FAO has chosen World food security: the challenges of climate change and bioenergy as the World Food Day theme to highlight continuing problems of world food security, and raise global awareness about the effects of climate change on agriculture, and the impact of biofuels on food production.
We declared the right to food a basic human right as well as a basic human need. In 1996, Heads of State and Government committed to halving the number of undernourished people by 2015. However, latest FAO figures indicate that the number of hungry people in the world has not been reduced, but on the contrary increased from 842 million to 923 million; including an estimated 75 million people which were added to the ranks of the poor and hungry last year.
Progress towards the WFS goal is held up by a combination of high food prices, climate change and biofuels development. High food prices affect everyone. Small and landless farmers and urban poor are hit hardest as they may spend as much as 70 percent of their household income on food. Unless timely and appropriate interventions are taken, more people will be pushed below the hunger threshold. It is grievous to note that, despite efforts made and progress achieved, there are still 583 million undernourished people in Asia and the Pacific region today, accounting for 63 percent of the world’s total.
Climate change makes the matter worse, as its impact is first and foremost felt at the level of the individual whose livelihood is dependent on natural resources. The worst hit will be hundreds of millions of small-scale farmers, fishers and forest-dependent people who are already vulnerable and often, food insecure.
In fact, this region has seen the alteration of freshwater availability; the melting of glaciers in the Himalayas; the increase of extreme events such as floods, draughts, cyclones and storm surges; the acceleration of land degradation and soil erosion: and the change of agro-ecosystems. These changes will have multi-faceted impacts on agricultural production, especially in rainfed agricultural areas. The Fourth Assessment Report by the International Plant Protection Commission predicts that under certain scenarios, crop yields in Central and South Asia could decrease by 30 percent by 2050. The region’s agricultural sector needs to be prepared to adapt to the changes and mitigate the impacts.
Agriculture is not only the victim of climate change; it is also an important source of greenhouse gas emissions. Crop production and livestock, and changes in land use, all contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. Agriculture and deforestation account for about one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions (especially carbon – 25 percent, methane – 50 percent and nitrous oxide – over 75 percent), of which about 80 percent are from developing countries. Climate and food security are interlinked. Concerted actions are required and agricultural communities need to play a key role to proactively develop solutions to address this complex issue.
Coping with the impact of climate change in the agricultural sector on a priority basis could take a twin-track approach by addressing both mitigation and adaptation. For example, FAO stresses the need for integrated river basin water resources management and irrigation modernization, sustainable forest management, conservation farming, sustainable fisheries, crop and livestock production, biodiversity conservation and improved fertilizer management. It has been recognized that there is an urgent need for comprehensive regional and national strategies to address climate change and food security issues in a systematic and holistic manner. Such an approach calls for a combination of policy innovations, institutional support, infrastructure improvement, technology development and extension, as well as capacity building.
Bioenergy development presents both opportunities and risks for food security. It could revitalize the agricultural sector, foster rural development and alleviate poverty. But if not managed sustainably, it could seriously threaten food security, hindering access to food for some of the most vulnerable. It can help mitigate climate change, but not if forests and peatlands are cleared to cultivate energy feedstocks such as sugar cane and palm oil. With the strong growth of bioenergy development in this region, especially in Southeast Asia, it is necessary to accelerate relevant studies and foster dialogue among all stakeholders in the context of food security and sustainable development.
Underinvestment in the agricultural sector has been a key constraint in many developing countries in addressing sustainable agriculture and rural development. We call on governments to further enhance their efforts on national strategies and policy formulation and step up concrete actions. However, financial support and technical assistance from the international community are necessary and important for the agricultural sector in developing countries to perform its multi-dimensional role of ensuring food security while conserving natural resources and protecting the environment. We can no longer afford to repeat the policy mistake of neglecting the importance of the agricultural sector, especially given its linkages with climate change.
Today, the global financial crisis – and its potential impact on international efforts to bring agricultural back to the top of the development agenda – is a cause of serious concern. In fact, the decline of Official Development Assistance (ODA) revealed by the recent report of the Millennium Development Goals Gap Task Force should serve as a wake-up call. We are today at the mid road to the MDG target year and we are running out of time. If the world doesn’t want to see more hungry people, riots, deaths or other tragic consequences caused by the food crisis, action need to be taken urgently. We require strengthened partnerships and joint efforts from developed countries, the international community, governments, academic institutions, NGOs and the private sector to address climate change and food security. It is absolutely essential that comprehensive strategies be developed and translated into actionable programmes with adequate investment for implementation.
This year 2008 should mark a turning point in progress towards the 1996 World Food Summit goal.
Your Royal Highness,
Ladies and gentlemen,
If the issues highlighted so far sensitize you to the plight of world food security and the pressing impacts of climate change and bioenergy, that’s what this observance is all about.