Distinguished Participants, Colleagues from AFMA and FAO,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my great pleasure to welcome you on behalf of the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific and myself, personally, to this important technical meeting on market-oriented agricultural extension.
The agricultural environment is changing with unprecedented speed and in very diverse ways as a result of market liberalization and globalization. The urban population in the region is increasing dramatically and this is accompanied by higher incomes and changing nutritional diets leading to greater demand for high-value products. These dynamics affect rural people in all areas of all countries in the region. The future for many small farmers could be bleak unless they can adapt their farming systems and other socio-economic conditions to meet these changes. Indeed, traditional semi-subsistence systems no longer provide a decent living for farmers and the need to engage them in markets has become a reality. Farming in order to survive and prosper requires that it becomes competitive and profitable. These developments pose extraordinary challenges for rural people but also offer opportunities.
Trade liberalization, changing market structures and new supply chains – domestic and international – affect all farmers. But often, it is a small number of the well-off farmers with favourable conditions for production that have been the primary beneficiaries of these developments. Many of small-scale producers have had difficulties taking advantage of available opportunities due to a lack of commercial know-how and information, lack of capital and an inability to take risks because of their small margin for survival. In addition to this there has been declining public investment in agricultural development, and in particular in extension services.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In response to these changes and efforts to link farmers to markets, many developing countries in the Asia and Pacific region have seen significant changes in the content of extension messages to farmers and their mode of delivery. Extension and advisory services are becoming more demand responsive and market-oriented and delivery has become more pluralistic.
Many of the constraints facing small farmers are related to a lack of adequate know-how and skills. The majority of the rural producers need to expand their understanding of markets and economic opportunities if they are to achieve more market success. Market-oriented agricultural advisory services can play an important role in helping small farmers overcome constraints, and are an essential component of the wider range of services that are needed to contribute to poverty alleviation. To retain viable livelihoods, small producers need to move from a focus on production for home consumption and occasional marketing of surpluses to production for the market. They have to be better able to respond to the ever increasing demands of the market.
More efforts are also needed in engaging the private sector, farmer organizations and civil society, and this calls for raising the awareness of policy makers, extension managers and farmers about the risks and challenges of the market and developing the skills needed to enable farmers to respond adequately to market changes.
Ladies and gentlemen,
This meeting reflects the needs for changes in agricultural extension and advisory services to facilitate farmers in enhancing their awareness in market changes and in taking full advantages to new market opportunities. This shift is bringing with it new organizational and financing challenges to both national governments and donor agencies.
FAO has been at the vanguard of these changes and has responded by developing training and extension materials in marketing and farm business management as part of a human resources development programme aimed at linking farmers to markets. Additionally, FAO has designed and implemented field programmes and projects and provided programme managers and policy makers with technical support and guidance.
FAO’s work on market-oriented advisory services contributes to the Organization’s endeavours to achieve Millennium Development Goal number 1 (Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger), which specifically considers poverty and food insecurity as interlinked. Indeed, not only does extension contribute to food and nutrition security, but selling produce in markets also contributes to income generation and sustainable development.
It is for these reasons that FAO’s Rural Infrastructure and Agro-industries Division together with the Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific has initiated this event. In collaboration with the Agricultural and Food Marketing Association for Asia and the Pacific (AFMA), FAO is proud to have gathered so many participants from within the region to this workshop. It is hoped that this event will be enlightening by raising awareness of the issues facing extension services as well as ways to meet the changing conditions and the challenges that exist. For us at FAO, the objective of this technical meeting is to learn from your experiences and the ways that you are responding to these changes.
I also wish that these deliberations will be used to foster new partnerships and set the ground for follow-up collaborative action as needed. The outcome of this workshop should also help us to develop future programmes in this emerging field.
Finally, we also hope that this meeting will help guide policy-makers towards considering new ways of providing effective and useful advisory support to farmers in their efforts to become more market-oriented.
Before I conclude, I wish to thank the organizers of this event – AFMA – for their efforts in preparing this meeting and to the all participants for your active involvement and participation. I thank you all for coming here to share your expertise.
I wish you a fruitful exchange of ideas and outcome in the following three days.