Dr Ganesh Thapa, Representative of IFAD,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
First of all, on behalf of my FAO colleagues and myself, allow me to convey warm greetings and welcome you all to Bangkok and to this Regional Consultation on Pro-Poor Policy Formulation and Implementation at the Country Level. We are greatly honoured and privileged to have you all here at the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific.
As you know, this regional consultation is being held to mark the closing of the regional project on pro-poor policy formulation, dialogue and implementation at the country level, implemented by FAO with support from IFAD. This project aimed to enhance the institutional capacity of eight countries of the Asia-Pacific region to analyze, formulate and implement pro-poor agricultural and rural development policies. Now that the project is over, the time has come to take stock of the achievements of the project, to evaluate its performance and to draw correct lessons for the future. These are the main objectives of this regional consultation.
As you will recall, the United Nations Millennium Summit in 2000 endorsed a Millennium Declaration setting out a global agenda at the start of the 21st Century to promote human development and reduce inequality. Among the eight Millennium Development Goals, halving the proportion of the population living in extreme poverty and hunger is the first and foremost goal to be achieved by 2015. It is particularly important to achieve MDG 1 as this goal underpins most of the other seven goals.
The Asia and Pacific region, as you all know, has achieved dramatic progress towards reducing poverty and hunger in the past three decades. Economic growth in the region has far exceeded the average for all developing countries and for the world as a whole. More recently, the region’s economic performance in the wake of the global financial and economic crisis has been one of the bright spots in the world economy.
However, let us not forget that the fruits of development have not been shared equally across countries and within the countries of the region. The Asia-Pacific region as a whole is more or less on track to halving the proportion of the population living on less than 1.25 dollars a day, but not the proportion in hunger which increased to 18 percent in 2009 as a result of the food and financial crises, and is now down slightly to 16 percent against the MDG target of 10 percent. Indeed, number of chronic hunger increased by over 100 million in 2009, out of which more than a half was from Asia, and the proportion of hunger has increased to 11 percent almost same rate as that in Sub-Saharan Africa. Moreover, the absolute numbers are very large: 947 million people still live in poverty in the region, down from 1.5 billion in 1990. 578 million people are still undernourished and nearly 100 million children under 5 years of age are underweight. Most of the poor and undernourished in this region live in rural areas and depend, in one way or another, on agriculture for a living. The problems of women especially pregnant and lactating mothers, children under five years of age and other disadvantaged groups call for special attention.
It is well established by now that higher economic growth rates are generally followed by larger reductions in poverty, but not always. In other words, growth is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for poverty reduction. In order to achieve larger reductions in poverty, high overall growth rates must be accompanied by strong agricultural and rural growth in a comprehensive and inclusive manner including the promotion of off-farm and non-farm sectors and associated income and employment generation and value chain development as well as social safety nets.
There is a great deal of evidence to support this view. For example, China adopted an agriculture-led development strategy in the early 1980s and was able to achieve high growth rates followed by a rapid reduction in poverty. However, growth became less pro-poor from the late 1980s, when the country shifted to a development strategy that favoured export promotion and inflow of foreign direct investment. Unfortunately, even agriculture-led growth is not always pro-poor, as other examples from the region show.
Hence the optimum approach would be that growth must be backed by proper pro-poor agricultural and rural development policies to ensure that it leads to improved livelihood options and opportunities for the poor and does not widen the gap between the poor and the rich. Pro-poor policies are not only about targeting development to the poor. These are also about setting in place the overall system, rules and parameters for service delivery and the provision of safety net. They are about improving governance, promoting decentralization and participatory development processes and ensuring equitable access for all to productive resources and opportunities.
Pro-poor policies can change the course of an economy and reshape a society. For example, the introduction of the household responsibility system in 1978 was a major contributor to rapid growth of agriculture and massive reduction in poverty and hunger in China. Nepal was experiencing deforestation at an alarming rate in the 1980s. But this was turned around with the forest legislation of 1993 under the Government of Nepal’s community forest policy. By the end of the 1990s, not only did the rate of deforestation slow down, but forest cover and biomass also improved in many areas.
The structure and contents of pro-poor policies must vary according to country-specific contexts and needs, since one size does not fit all, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region which is one of the most diverse regions in the world. However, there are many commonalities among the countries of the region that make a regional sharing of pro-poor policy experiences relevant and possible. While each country can learn from its own context-specific past and present experiences, it can also gain considerable insights from the lessons learned and the best practices piloted in other countries of the region.
In order to translate this learning into sound pro-poor policies, these policies must be crafted with a good understanding not only of the resource endowments and potentials of farmers but also their priorities, aspirations and motivations. What we think is good for them may not be what they really want.
Therefore conventional wisdom, economic theory and experiences from elsewhere must be tempered with adequate policy dialogue with stakeholders. This underscores the need to have a people-centred, holistic approach of country-specific identification, analysis and formulation of policies with full participation by stakeholders.
Most critically, this process must also involve a strong element of capacity building so the countries concerned can perform these tasks themselves without, or with less, external support in the future.
These elements were all present in the regional project which has just concluded. As you know, there were eight countries in the project, which began with a series of stakeholder consultation workshops, one in each country, in which priority topics for analysis were identified. Twenty three such topics were identified and studies conducted by local institutions to analyze the problem and propose pro-poor policy options for implementation. To ensure that these studies were not mere academic exercises but were anchored in reality, regular consultations with government officials and other stakeholders were held, mainly through workshops. This process was facilitated by the fact that the national focal points were generally senior government officials, who could ensure that the analytical work stayed on track.
However, the ultimate goal of any such project must always provide practical and implementable recommendations to the region’s governments so that the right policies are identified and implemented after dialogue with stakeholders and have a significant impact on poverty and hunger reduction. It has to be said that our initial expectations regarding implementation of the study results have not been fully borne out, perhaps because of the relatively short three and a half year time-frame of the project. Significant achievements in this regard have been made by in some countries and implementation plans drawn up in all eight. I am sure there are important lessons to be drawn from this experience and this workshop offers an ideal opportunity to do that.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I do not wish to take up too much of your time. We have much to hear from you on lessons from programme implementation in your country, and what needs to be done to implement the findings of the studies. In conducting your deliberations I hope you will keep in mind that this was, in many ways, a pioneering effort and as with all such efforts there is always room for improvement.
It is my hope that by the end of this regional consultation we will have a better idea of how to do pro-poor policy analysis, produce implementable recommendations and most importantly, what is needed to implement these recommendations successfully in order to maximize their impact on poverty and hunger. As one of the important outputs of this consultation, I wish to see a set of concrete recommendations for priority actions endorsed by the participants, which would serve as agreed common platform for our concerted effort. Millions of poor and undernourished people in this region – and in other regions – stand to benefit if we can draw the right lessons. I wish you all success in your deliberations.
Thank you very much.