Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Hiroyuki Konuma

FAO Regional Representative for Asia-Pacific

Hiroyuki Konuma
Assistant Director-General and
Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
delivered at the

Sago Network Symposium

Trang, Thailand
14 March 2011

His Excellency Mr. Maitri Inthusut, Governor of Trang Province,
Mr. Pisit Charnsnoh, President, Yadfon Foundation, Trang,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

       It is my pleasure to welcome you here today on behalf of FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific to this Sago Network Symposium.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

       The sago palm can be found in many areas in the southernmost provinces of Thailand, such as Nakhonsrithommarat, Phathalung, Songkla, Pattani, Yala and Narathiwas. It is one of the oldest tropical plants exploited in Thailand specifically for its starch for use as food.  Sago palm (Metroxylon spp.) is an extremely hardy plant, and is one of the few tropical crops that can tolerate wet growing conditions, including peat swamps.  It is immune to floods, drought, fire and strong winds. Its large fibrous root system traps silt loads and removes pollutants, faecal contaminants and heavy metals from the environment where it is grown. Given its tolerance of salinity, it offers protection to low-lying coastal areas from extensive saltwater flooding by storm surges. Sago forests serve as an excellent carbon sink for carbon sequestration, thereby mitigating the greenhouse effect and global warming arising from the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

       Sago palm when grown in a suitable environment with organized farming practices could have a yield potential of up to 25 tons of starch per hectare per year. This starch yield per unit area is approximately 3 to 4 times higher than that of rice, corn, or wheat, and about 17 times higher than that of cassava.  Sago palm serves as a food security crop and as an income earner in many countries where it is grown, thereby contributing to poverty alleviation and to rural   economic development. The leaves and stems of the palm serve multiple functional purposes.  The starch is consumed as a staple food and is widely used in the production of cookies, sweets and breads at the small-holder level and is processed for export on a commercial scale. The use of sago starch and the bye-products produced during sago processing, for the production of high value products, is currently being widely investigated.

       Despite these multiple uses and benefits of the sago palm, millions of hectares of sago forest wetlands in Southeast Asia are currently being replaced by palm oil plantations today. Many wild sago stands have disappeared from this region of Thailand. This disappearance of the sago palm is of concern.

       If we consider the need to double world food production by the year 2050 with limited land and water resources to do so, there is clearly a need for greater attention to be paid to highly productive food crops such as the sago palm that can grow well in marginal and disadvantaged lands. Greater attention must, therefore, be paid to further explore and exploiting the potentials of the sago palm for its environmental benefit and as a food security crop.

       FAO together with donors such as the Government of Japan continue to support initiatives to promote the conservation of sago forests in order to ensure that the sago palm continues to fulfil these critically important roles.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

       We have a very interesting programme ahead of us over the next day and a half.  I look forward to interacting with you and to sharing and exchanging ideas and information on sago palm development.  I wish you a productive Symposium.

       Thank you.