Your Excellency Iajuddin Ahmed, President of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh,
Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization,
Distinguished participants and guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great honour and special privilege for me, on behalf of Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, to welcome you all to the opening of the International Symposium on Climate Change and Food Security in South Asia, which is jointly organized by WMO, ESCAP, the Ohio State University, the University of Dhaka and FAO, in cooperation with the Government of Bangladesh.
Your Excellency Iajuddin Ahmed, I am deeply impressed and inspired by your personal presence here today, despite your heavy state duties. Your presence, once again, signifies your strong interest and the deep commitment of the Government of Bangladesh to issues relating to climate change, food security and sustainable agricultural development.
Indeed, one and a half months ago, Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, pointed out at the G8 Summit that the world today faces three simultaneous crises: a food crisis, a climate crisis and a development crisis. Today, we are here to collectively address these crises from a regional perspective in one of the most vulnerable sub-regions. I am convinced that – through your genuine efforts to exchange experiences and propose solutions to these issues – the Symposium will substantially contribute to the sub-region’s achievement of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals.
South Asia is home to the largest concentration of poverty and undernourishment. Although current total food production in the sub-region increased three-fold compared to the 1960s, there are still some 312 million undernourished people in the sub-region, accounting for 36 percent of the world’s total. Also, about 40 percent of the world’s poor living on less than a dollar a day is found in this sub-region. With rapid population growth and resources depletion, food security remains a major concern in South Asia, and faces new and daunting challenges.
The most recent concern of soaring food prices has added an additional challenge to food security in the region. Food prices have more than doubled since January 2006, with over 60 percent of the rise occurring this year. This is a crisis which has a multi-dimensional impact, especially on the urban poor, small farmers and marginalized communities. Unless rapid and appropriate interventions are taken, it could push 100 million additional people worldwide below the poverty line, as several studies have indicated. The main causes of the price hikes and their impacts were thoroughly elaborated at last June’s High Level Conference on World Food Security: the Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy, convened by FAO in Rome.
Today, we are gathered in Dhaka – a city with a colourful history – for a follow-up in addressing the issues through a regional approach, focusing on the long-term implications of climate changes, including the decline of freshwater availability, the rise of sea levels, glacial melting in the Himalayas, the increase of extreme events such as floods, draughts, cyclones and storm surges, and the shifting of cropping zones – all of which will impact not only the agriculture and the food sector, but also the entire economy, society and environment in South Asia.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Various scenarios and predictions have been presented by scientists and experts: Himalayan snow and glacial ice may decline by 20 percent by 2030; Bhutan will be more frequently hit by floods, landslides and droughts; Nepal’s Yaks will have to find new forage lands; irrigation in the Indus basin and Ganges-Brahmaputra delta will be at risk due to salinity, increased flooding and sea level rise; food deficits in Bangladesh may rise from the current 2.8 to 3 million tonnes to 4.7 million tonnes in two decades time; a temperature rise of 0.5 oC will reduce rice production in Sri Lanka by 5.9 percent; a temperature rise of about 2 oC may have substantial impacts on the distribution, growth and reproduction of fish stock; and with over 80 percent of the land area less than 1 meter above the sea level, the Maldives is extremely vulnerable to sea level rises and beach erosion.
These are not science fiction scenarios far away from us; rather, some are already a reality: two monsoon floods and Cyclone Sidr that struck Bangladesh last year led to significant food losses, with Aman rice losses alone estimated at 2 million tons, causing panic in the rice market.
Agriculture is not only the victim of climate change; it is also a source of greenhouse gases. Crop and livestock production and changes in land use due to human activities, such as deforestation and soil degradation, all contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. Agriculture and deforestation account for about one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions, especially some 25 percent of carbon, 50 percent of methane and over 75 percent of nitrous oxide. About 80 percent of total emissions from agriculture, including deforestation, are from developing countries. Climate and food security are interlinked and agricultural communities need to play a key role and be proactively involved in developing solutions to address the issues.
Clearly, agriculture is a science based on climate and ecology, having multiple functions. It should no longer be perceived as dealing with food production only. As a result, we need comprehensive strategies and policies, as well as institutional frameworks involving integrated approaches and multidisciplinary team work. I am pleased to note the spectrum of expertise present at this symposium and the broad partnership prevailing among international organizations, academic institutions and the government sectors. I believe this Symposium will definitely add value to on-going global, regional and national initiatives and provide intellectual inputs to scientific solutions for tackling climate change, food security and sustainable agriculture in South Asia in an integrated approach.
As said, agriculture is both a bearer and a contributor of climate change. Coping with the impact of climate change in the agriculture sector on a priority basis shall aim at win-win options addressing both mitigation and adaptation requirements. In this connection, FAO stresses the need for integrated river basin water resources management and irrigation modernization, sustainable forest management, conservation farming, sustainable fishery, crop and livestock production, biodiversity conservation and agriculture diversification. 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.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We have witnessed that the world food crisis has had tragic economic, social and political consequences on different continents, causing riots and deaths in some parts of the world. This should serve as a wake up call for the international community and governments. We can no longer repeat the policy mistake of neglecting the importance of the agricultural sector, especially when considering the impact of climate change. How can the fragile agricultural sector perform its multi-dimensional role of producing food while conserving natural resources and protecting the environment without adequate financial support and international assistance for the developing countries? The lack of investment in the agricultural sector has been a main constraint in many developing countries. Now, robust programmes for adaptation and mitigation have to be promoted in each country. In the end, we need 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. Indeed, governments carry the ownership of national food security programmes, and are expected to mobilize resources and streamline efforts to address climate change and sustainable agricultural production issues. But, international assistance and technical cooperation are important and necessary for developing countries.
Before concluding, I wish to briefly mention that FAO has been working on assisting member countries to mainstream climate change responses in food and agriculture policies and programmes; implementing field projects on disaster management and climate change in agriculture. Its recent initiatives on soaring food prices cover several South Asia countries, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. In addition, the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific is supporting SAARC with the formulation of a long term regional programme for food security, including addressing the issues of environment and natural resources and climate changes. We will further strengthen our efforts and cooperation with governments and other partners in these areas, as a follow-up to the recommendations of this symposium.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Addressing climate change and the current food crisis in South Asia call for joint efforts and concrete actions. Let’s join hands and work together for a food secure and prosperous South Asia.