Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Hiroyuki Konuma

FAO Regional Representative for Asia-Pacific

WELCOME ADDRESS

by

Hiroyuki Konuma
Assistant Director-General and
FAO Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific

delivered at the

Regional Forum on Nutrition-Sensitive Food Production Systems for Sustainable Food Security in Asia and the Pacific

Bangkok, Thailand
7 December 2011

 

Excellencies,
Distinguished Delegates from member countries,
Colleagues from development partners and UN Agencies,
Representatives from civil society and private sectors,
Ladies and Gentlemen

It is my great pleasure to welcome you all on behalf of the Food and Organization of the United Nations to the Regional Forum on “Nutrition-sensitive food production systems for sustainable food security in Asia and the Pacific”. It is indeed a privilege for FAO to host a meeting that brings together leading experts to brainstorm on practical ways and means to address food and nutrition issues. I note the attendance of delegates from over thirty countries and large number of key development partners and stakeholders such as civil society, farmer’s organizations, academe and the private sectors from this Region. I specifically acknowledge the participation of Dr.Watson, on behalf of Dr. David Nabarro, UN Special  Representative for Food Security and nutrition who expressed his keen interest to participate and regretted his inability to attend due to unavoidable commitment. I also value greatly the collaboration and participation of UN sister agencies including WFP, UNICEF, WHO and UNDP,  and international organizations such as ADB, EU, AVRDC and World Fish Centre. This shows the importance attached to food security and nutrition, as well as increasing problems related to malnutrition. This also demonstrates commitments of countries and partners towards the sustainable eradication of poverty, hunger and malnutrition.

Notwithstanding great improvements in a number of individual countries, progress in reducing hunger and malnutrition has been unacceptably slow. The combined effects of prolonged underinvestment in food, agriculture and nutrition, together with the food price instability exacerbated by the steady increase in the frequency and severity of natural disasters have led to increased hunger and poverty in developing countries, jeopardizing the progress achieved so far in meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

FAO estimates that a total of 925 million people were undernourished in 2010 compared with 1.02 billion in 2009. WHO estimates that 10 million children die before their fifth birthday every year, and that a third of these deaths are associated with undernutrition. One in three children in developing country under the age of five (178 million children) are stunted due to chronic undernutrition and 148 million children are underweight. Micronutrient malnutrition or “hidden hunger” affects around 2 billion people (over 30% of the world population) with serious public health consequences.

At the same time 43 million children under five years of age are overweight, and obesity affects around 500 million adults, not only in rich countries, but increasingly in low and middle income countries, with consequences ranging from increased risk of premature death to serious chronic health conditions that reduce the overall quality of life.  In overall, it is estimated that nearly one billion people on the planet, similar to the number of people suffer from undernutrition, are suffering from overweight at the same time.

Can’t we do something to resolve this fundamental disparity and inequality created by mankind?  I see this as the most serious injustice in human history.  In deed, the world produces sufficient food to meet the demand of everyone, yet food is not accessed equally. This problem became more critical when the food price increased and became volatile, especially for the poor   consumers who spend as much as 70 percent of their household income on food.

The food prices in real term remain still over 100 percent high if compared with that of 10 years ago.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Agriculture remains the largest contributor to the employment and  livelihoods of nearly 70 percent of the people in developing countries who represent the largest portion of the poor and undernoulished. The agriculture sector is far more than just a food producer. It is the source of food for direct consumption at household level and contributes to national food security, but also it generates employment and income, while safeguarding the natural resource base, upon which the majority of mankind relies. This sector offers the highest impact to reducing poverty and hunger, and greatest potential for achieving sustained improvements in the nutrition status of the poor.

We should therefore not limit ourselves to increase production and supply but also ensure that we protect and improve the access to food, in particular for the poor: who should be safe garded to have the right to adequate quantities of safe and quality food for a nutritionally adequate diet. This includes not only energy, protein and fats but also micronutrients, which can be found in fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy products, fish, including wild and indigenous foods.

There is an urgent need to critically review agriculture and related policies as a core backbone  to ensure food and nutrition security, and focus on medium and long-term strategies to support food and nutrition security, which would encompass activities related to the supply of nutritionally valuable foods at an affordable price, develop whole food supply chain linkages and benefits including production, processing, storage, distribution and marketing, as well as nutrition education at household level for the preparation and consumption of a variety and diversity of safe and quality foods.

This requires support for an appropriate mix of enabling policies, institutions and infrastructure that support agriculture-based livelihoods and protect and promote food and nutrition security. Incorporating nutrition considerations into the agricultural research and development will not derail the research agenda but will strengthen the goal of research and development  which is to improve the quality of life.

Agricultural policies influence the quantity and quality of foods farmers produce, as well as the range of crops grown and the production methods used. Therefore, agricultural policies can affect human health and nutrition. In turn, health and nutrition policies can affect agriculture by influencing whether farming families are physically able to work their farm.

Yet although they may share goals, professionals in agriculture, nutrition, and health rarely have opportunities to discuss areas of mutual interest, exploit synergies and pursue outcomes together that are beneficial to society. In this context, a strategic partnership among different sectors and actors is imperative to address the challenges related to eradicating poverty, improving food and nutrition security.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

There is a need for effective, sustainable and long-term solutions. This can best be done by nutrition-sensitive food and agriculture based approaches that have nutrition improvement of all household members as the explicit objective, and by narrowing the nutrition gap i.e. the gap between what foods are available and what foods are needed for a healthy and active life.

The approach stresses the multiple benefits derived from enjoying a variety of foods, recognising the nutritional value of food for good nutrition, and the importance and social significance of the food and agricultural sector for supporting rural livelihoods. It also supports the right-to-food approach in preventing hunger and ensuring health and well-being.

However, to promote such approach there is need for strengthening capacities of institutional structures dealing with agriculture issues, promoting advocacy to decision makers to ensure better visibility of nutritional aspects and further consideration of nutrition in a cross-sectoral manner and mainstream nutrition in the development agenda.

I strongly believe that it will enable us to move towards embracing a two-fold approach: supporting the development of more efficient, sustainable and resilient food production systems and improving access to adequate food and nutrition.

FAO and WHO have repeatedly expressed their concern on the impact of globalisation on people’s food practices and consumption patterns. In Small Island States and elsewhere, people have become dependent on highly-processed imported foods and neglected the production of micro-nutrient rich foods like local fruits and vegetables.

As a consequence local food systems have become increasingly vulnerable to the impact of volatile food prices and the poorest population groups, in particular in urban areas, are most affected. With WFP, the World Bank and other agencies, FAO helped to prepare an action plan on the volatility of food prices and agriculture which was adopted in June in Paris. The plan gives special attention to prevention and risk management and thus contributes to protecting the food security of vulnerable households.

In order to give new impetus to world-wide efforts on behalf of hungry and malnourished people, FAO and WHO in close collaboration with other UN agencies,  have decided to convene an International Conference on Nutrition in Rome, twenty years after the 1992 ICN. The Conference will be held at FAO Headquarters in Rome in 2013. One of the objectives of the Conference is to raise, inter alia, both the political will and the financial resources necessary for achieving nutrition-related MDGs through a balanced multi-sector approach.

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, today’s multifaceted problems of poverty, hunger and malnutrition and fast changing world call for a closer partnership between different actors and sectors. Globalization presents many challenges to Asia and the Pacific Region and as such we should cooperate with the aim of achieving mutual benefits.

I hope these two days sessions would result in possible avenues for cooperation between different stakeholders and to come up with action plans that will result in increased food and nutrition security in the countries and the Region through nutrition sensitive food production system and other priority actions. This regional forum is also aim to strengthen regional networking to stimulate multi-stakeholder collaboration and coordination among concerned sectors and stakeholders, and aligning ongoing and new programmes.

I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere thanks and appreciation to all of you for your cooperation and great support in organizing this event. I wish all delegates and participants a successful and productive discussions as well as a pleasant stay in Thailand.

Thank you.