Ladies and gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all, on behalf of FAO Director-General, Jacques Diouf, and on my own behalf to the Technical Meeting of the Asia-Pacific Network for Food and Nutrition on Nutrition Interventions for Food Security ? can they work effectively in isolation??
I find that this year's topic is quite interesting and important, amid the current issues of soaring food prices and their impact on our efforts for poverty and hunger reduction, as well as worldwide responses by governments and international communities.
While stressing food shortages and emphasizing the need and actions for increasing agricultural productivity and market supply, it is also important to recognize the critical role of the agriculture sector in addressing other aspects of the problems of malnutrition.
Agriculture and nutrition are linked in many ways. Food security is one of the three pillars of good nutrition, along with good care and good health. Some of the key nutrition problems that the countries in the region are confronted with include undernutrition of mothers and children (associated with low birthweight), stunted growth in childhood, iron deficiency anaemia, iodine deficiency and vitamin A deficiency. Multidimensional nutrition interventions can potentially address most of these problems. However, food-based approaches need to be pursued vigorously so that they become a larger part of longer term global strategies.
In order to ensure that the conceptual understanding of food security and nutrition goes beyond food production, governments need to better understand the crucial role, function and impact of the agricultural sector not only on food production, but also on poverty and malnutrition. If agriculture can increase and better demonstrate its antipoverty and nutrition benefits, the sector is likely to generate more support for many important public goods that are associated with agricultural development.
It is therefore important to appreciate the interfaces between agriculture, nutrition and food science. Interactions need to be strengthened right at the productive stage so that cropping systems can be designed to achieve nutrition goals. Balanced nutrition should come from farms, not from pharmacies! Due consideration need also to be given to post-harvest phases so that losses are minimized. Such a strategy would have duel benefits -- it not only adds value to processed food products but also enhance the quantities available for consumption. Improved post-harvest technology, therefore, will maximize yields and minimize quantitative and qualitative losses. By seeking closer collaboration with the nutrition sector, agriculture can gain new insights into the needs of its primary end-users -- the consumers, whether poor or rich ? and offer a more comprehensive national food basket that is the product of sound agriculture policies, including the fisheries and livestock sub-sectors.
Ladies and gentlemen,
During the 1996 World Food Summit, food security was defined as food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.?
This definition presents a comprehensive guidance for increased collaboration between agriculture and nutrition, in particular as it focusses on the needs of consumers across different dimensions: cultural (preferences), health (nutritionally adequate diet and safe food), utilization and sustainability.
As people's incomes go up, their demand for foodstuffs other than cereals ? namely fruits, vegetables, and animal products ? increases dramatically. This rise in demand is due to a combination of income growth and shifts in taste preferences and increased urbanization. Increased intake of these products, which are rich in micronutrients, is consistent with improved nutrition status. Deficiencies in various minerals and vitamins, such as iron, iodine, folic acid, and vitamins A and D, are widespread in many developing countries, and the consequences of these deficits are especially serious for infants, children and women. The nutrition community should thus be seen as an ally of agriculture in indirectly stimulating demand for variety in the diet by directly stimulating the demand for micronutrient-rich foods.
With increased incomes, however, high consumption of fat, sugar and salt turns into an important risk factor associated with noncommunicable diseases such as coronary heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and some forms of cancer. So these are the other forms of malnutrition. The nutrition community should act as a leading advocate by suggesting appropriate dietary preferences so as to combat the emerging problem of malnutrition in developing countries. I believe that national food based strategies and agriculture/nutrition policy instruments have a tremendous role to play in this context.
Consumers may have preferences for some locally produced foods. This preference is often explained not by economics, but by culture. The agriculture community must be aware of these preferences if it is to maximize its connection to consumers and its profits. The nutrition community has longstanding expertise in identifying the diversity of available indigenous foods, and the agriculture community should develop partnerships to tap into that expertise.
It is important to recognize that serious consideration needs to be given on the type of action or combination of actions that are most appropriate for combating problems of undernutrition under varying situations. The choice will depend on the actual nature and distribution of the malnutrition problem and its causes. Can any single intervention be prescribed in isolation? I understand this is the exercise you are challenged to undertake in the meeting and to come up with recommendations for future actions. I trust your focus will be towards the agricultural sector.
Although nutrition cuts across sectors, it is often placed in a line ministry ? typically the Ministry of Health. In the absence of a strong motivation to develop cross-ministerial policies and programmes for food and nutrition security, sector-specific homes for nutrition ends up favouring one sector at the expense of the others. This tendency to departmentalize? nutrition should be totally discouraged. There is therefore a strong need for most institutions to internalize the latest generation of conceptual frameworks for addressing the issues of nutrition.
National level food and nutrition apex bodies that bring together line ministries, such as the ministries of agriculture, health, social affairs and finance have been successful in a few instances, typically under a very specific set of circumstances. We call for more countries to experiment with innovative arrangements and apply state-of-the art conceptual models of food security and nutrition.
Increased attention to nutrition can enable the agriculture sector to better meet its own needs in many ways. It can enhance the antipoverty and nutrition impacts of agriculture and ensure greater support for a broad range of important public goods that are associated with agricultural development, as mentioned earlier. Clearly, what is essential is a common goal or conceptual vision to guide both agriculture and nutrition in policymaking, strategy development and institutional innovation so that those commonalities can be realized for the benefit of people including in particular the large number of small farmers.
With soaring cereal prices, in particular record high prices of major staple foods such as rice and wheat, there is a threat that more people are going hungry in the developing world. The increase in prices not only makes overall food less available and accessible, but reduces the variety and choices because poor people can only afford cheaper or low cost staples which lack in essential vitamins and minerals needed to maintain good health. As a result, millions are left at-risk for not only severe malnutrition, but also micronutrient deficiencies. The High-Level Conference on World Food Security held by FAO in Rome from 3 to 5 June 2008 was attended by 180 countries and the European Community. More than 40 Heads of State and Government pledged to ease the current food crisis. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon emphasized the essential need to work collectively to address the root causes of food insecurity and poverty. There was a general recognition of the priority need for making more food available at reasonable prices, and to pay special attention to nutrition of children and women in communities at risk.
Transboundary animal diseases such as avian influenza, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the recent floods in Bangladesh and cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, are but few examples of how natural disasters that can ultimately affect livelihoods of poor people and their nutritional status. You may therefore, wish to address these issues in your deliberations.
I am confident that with your rich experience in the field you will be in a position to put forward your recommendation so as to have a better community outreach by imparting education and training on nutrition, health and hygiene, aimed at increasing awareness of the relationship between a balanced diet and disease prevention, and improving the overall health and nutritional status of communities in need. In doing so, I suggest that your prime consideration should be the agricultural sector with a definite focus on specific malnutrition problems.
Before I conclude, I should mention and extend my appreciation to the Asia-Pacific Network for Food and Nutrition which provides a coordinating forum for such technical meetings. I trust you enjoy attending this yearly meeting at RAP.
I now declare the Technical Meeting of Asia-Pacific Network for Food and Nutrition on Nutrition Interventions for Food Security ? can they work effectively in isolation?? open.
I thank you all and wish you a pleasant stay in Bangkok.