Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Hiroyuki Konuma

FAO Regional Representative for Asia-Pacific

OPENING SPEECH
by
Hiroyuki Konuma
Deputy Regional Representative of FAO
delivered at the


Mid-term Workshop:
SUSTAINABLE USE OF PROBLEM SOILS IN RAINFED AGRICULTURE
(TCP/THA/2906)

18 April 2005, Khon Kaen




Mr Sunthon Siripakdee, Vice Governor of Khon Kaen province,
Dr Rungsun, National Project Director,
Distinguished Participants,
Ladies and Gentlemen:

On behalf of Dr. He Changchui, Assistant Director General and the Regional Representative of the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, I would like to extend a warm welcome to all of you to this mid-term workshop for the project on Sustainable Use of Problem Soils in Rainfed Agriculture which is funded from FAO's Technical Cooperation Programme.

In the Asia and Pacific region, land and water resources management has been identified as one of the top priority areas for actions in order to achieve sustainable food security by raising land productivity, reversing land degradation and water loss, increasing biodiversity and improving the quality of the environment.

Poverty is a rural phenomenon in Thailand. Out of 6.2 million poor people which constitutes about 10 percent of the total population, 86 percent of them reside in rural areas. Approximately 70 percent of the poor households are farmers or rural labourers dependent on agriculture. In particular, the northeastern region has the highest rate of poverty, with 60 percent of the total poor in the country live in this region, and the majority of them are poor farmers. At the same time, the Northeast Region with its 19 provinces, is an important and leading commodity grain producer, including rice, in Thailand. Agriculture production in this Region, however, is constrained by the several factors including structure of farmland, existing land use system, lack of capital inputs, soil salinity, shallow and sandy soils of low fertility, limited irrigation facilities and, more critically, by poor soil and water management which are seriously affecting the small farmers' land producing capacity, crop yields and farm income.

The Government considered that the introduction and establishment of appropriate and effective integrated low-cost, low-risk management and rehabilitation techniques to control soil salinity and sodicity development and to overcome production constraints in salt-affected and low fertility soils for better crop production, particularly in rainfed agriculture, should be urgently addressed with the highest priority for poverty alleviation.

In order to introduce and demonstrate the required technologies, this project was commenced in September 2003. The field demonstration and experiment were implemented at Khon Kaen and Nakhon Rachasima provinces. The sites represent the general characteristics of the region with slight to moderate soil salinity and sodicity especially where paddy is grown under low soil fertility status. The region also suffers from the severe shortage of the rainfall.

The notable technical approaches of this project include soil salinity control through water management, in application of organic matter, fertilizer, and soil amendments, and adoption of salt tolerant varieties. The activities which are successfully implemented include the collection of the field data, trainings provided to farmers, laboratory technicians, and extension workers.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The purpose of this workshop is to promote integrated management of sustainable use of problem soils through exchanging of experiences with other countries having similar problems and with the technical organizations in relation to food security and natural disaster management in Asian countries. The aim is to develop more applied knowledge, policy instruments, national capacities and technologies which would assist in developing more efficient and sustainable management of land resources for alleviating poverty, improved productivity with minimal cost, and efficient use and management of scarce water resources.

This workshop is also aimed at to discuss the future development of the methodology and tools and ways of overcoming existing constraints, namely low agricultural productivity due to soil salinity, low fertility, and low available water. It is also expected to learn each other's experience and to discuss ways to promote future collaboration, and exchange of information, data, expertise and experiences in sustainable land management among the countries in the region.

I have noted from recent policy statement of the Prime Minister that the poverty eradication is one of the top policy agenda of the Thai Government for next four years with a strategy at the national level to facilitate all farmers to have sufficient ownership of land in order to increase long-term agricultural productivity to maximize the utilization of land along side the improvement of soil quality. The Government is also committed to increase efficiency of water resource management and allocate water in accordance with the demand of farmer's production system. At the grass-roots level, the Government will focus on expanding opportunities, creating income, reducing expenditure, as well as providing access to capital, including money, land ownership and knowledge by accelerating land ownership distribution, expanding the opportunities to gain capital access through Assets Capitalization and promoting cooperative systems and the learning process in new theories of agriculture.

I would like to quote some of relevant paragraphs of the Prime Minister's policy statement.

QUOTE

The next four years will be four years that transform Thailand into a secure and sustainable nation in every respect. The Government will provide the opportunities for the future and lay solid foundations for the economy, society and politics by focusing on strengthening the local people, replenishing the fertility of soil and water resources and restoring the power of decision to the community.

UNQUOTE

Thus, there is a high expectation to this project to serve for the attainment of the national policy goal.

I sincerely hope that the pilot experiment and demonstration initiated by this project would be followed up under a clearly defined action plan and would be scaled up as the national programme with the allocation of necessary national budget and would serve as the main engine of the poverty alleviation programme in line with the Prime Minister's policy statement along with land reform and water resource management initiatives. For these purposes, today's workshop is very valuable, timely and important for Thailand, which would lead, I hope, to the definition of action plan for national programme.

On the other hand, I am also confident that the valuable experience and lessons gained by this project would benefit other countries in the region facing similar constraints by disseminating the project results to the countries through your effective channel and networks.

Finally, I would like to convey our sincere gratitude to the experts from China, India, Indonesia, Egypt, Philippines Sri Lanka and Thailand as well as those from multilateral and bilateral organizations for their participation to this workshop. Your contributions based on the valuable knowledge gained through your experience is most essential for the successful achievement of this workshop.

I wish to avail of this opportunity to thank the officials of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives and the provincial authorities of Khon Kaen province for their cooperation, collaboration and efforts for the successful implementation of the project and organization of this important workshop.

I wish this mid-term workshop every success and its fruitful outcome.

With these few words, I declare the workshop opened.

Thank you very much for your attention.