Distinguished participants, resource persons, ladies and gentlemen, and FAO colleagues:
It is my pleasure to welcome you, on behalf of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, to the FAO Regional Workshop on “Ensuring Resilient Food Systems in Asian Cities” and join FAO colleagues in thanking you for your valuable participation despite your busy schedules and the uncertainity in Bangkok due to the flooding situation.
I would also like to thank Mr. Paul Munro-Faure, Chairperson of FAO Food for the Cities, Rome and our colleagues from Rome for supporting this important workshop and also for their strong collaboration with the regional office in helping to plan and organize this event.
Challenges to Urbanization
As you all are aware, the world’s population is becoming increasingly urbanized as a result of both natural increase and rural-urban migration. According to the United Nations Population Division, the percentage of urban population has exceeded 50% (3.5 billion) of the total world population, and it will continue to increase for the next decades to nearly 70% by 2050 (>6 billion).
Cities can be difficult places to live in as in cities, poverty leads to food insecurity and homelessness, but people move to cities because of apparently more opportunities: education, services, protection.
In addition to the increasing populations, there are impacts of climate change, which not only lower the agricultural yields due to various reasons, but also reduce the land due to soil erosion or reduction in sedimentation. Further emergency situations, as the current flooding in Thailand cause problems not only in relation to land availability for cultivation but also difficulty in food distribution in cities.
This Regional workshop, which is being organised at a time when some of the experiences of the Thailand situation in this regard can be practically visualised, covers four different dimensions:
i) Food supply and distribution systems
As the urban population increases, more food needs to be transported and distributed to cities while maintaining its quality and freshness. Changing food habits of urban dwellers, specifically purchasing food rather than growing, consumption of processed products, change of food distribution and marketing system from the traditional one to a more diversified organised retailing system (with controls on access), has led to the need to examine and address various issues.
Urbanization creates the need for modifications in national marketing, processing and distribution systems. The cost factor also needs to be addressed as storage, transportation and distribution increases the cost of the products for urban populations. Poor linkages between rural areas and cities can also result in a high rate of food spoilage, resulting in constricted food supply and higher food prices. This also necessitates better infrastructure especially in terms of cold storage and appropriate transportation.
ii) Ensuring Availability and access
Urban households are generally dependent on purchased food supplies from various sources: wholesale and large retail markets, supermarkets, the neighbourhood pop and mom stores, local shops, street vendors and sometimes directly from rural markets. In addition, they also depend more on small roadside restaurants. The rising and volatility of food prices is an important challenges and the urban poor are limited in their choice of purchased food, and often suffer from hunger and malnutrition. Urban and peri-urban food production also helps increase the availability of healthy and affordable food - mainly fresh fruits, vegetables, eggs and dairy products - for the urban consumers.
Availability and access is also dependent on crisis, emergency and post crisis situations like tsunami, earthquakes, flooding in addition to the climate change impacts. These situations would require planning and special mitigation measures for continued availability of food for populations.
iii) Ensuring health and nutrition security in cities
This is one of the most important areas and covers the utilization aspects of food for maintaining health. Two aspects are basically important – the food needs to be safe for consumption and diets need to be nutritionally adequate.
Food safety in urban areas is of growing importance – both in organised sector such as organized retail and resturants as well as in informal market sectors – public places and street foods. Major issues include lack of potable water for the washing of fruits and vegetables, cooking, washing utensils; poor hygiene due to lack of awareness, improper storage. There is also the issue of waste disposal and use of waste water which further contaminates the food and water supplies. Care needs to be taken in the use of containers and packaging materials which, if not of food grade quality, may contain harmful materials.
Changes in lifestyle have contributed to the changes in dietary patterns and nutritional status of urban dwellers. There is increasing reliance on processed and convenience foods which may lead to malnutrition situations – under or over-nutrition, the so-called double burden of malnutrition which may be further exacerbated by low levels of physical activities.
iv) Role of different stakeholders and partnerships
Interconnected policy making and implementation is crucial – there is a need to look at the various actors and their roles. Of significant importance are the local authorities who not only have knowledge of local conditions but also need to act as key players in implementing programmes to respond to specific situations regarding the social, economic and environmental aspects.
The role of producers, farmers, consolidators (or middlemen) processors, transporters, etc cannot be under estimated as they are the basic providers of food.
Critical is the role of consumers, who need to have awareness on the foods to consume, the safety and nutritional aspects, the method of cooking, storing etc to ensure that it is safe and nutritionally healthy.
The workshop will not be complete if we do not address the role of women have a major contribution to make in cities as they take care of families, cook as needed, purchase, store, in addition to other roles as income earners.
Last but not least, is the donor community who need to understand as well as provide inputs for their technical and financial investments to support resilient food systems in cities
Ladies and gentlemen,
This issue is of growing importance. A subregional seminar had been organised on “Feeding Asian Cities” in Bangkok in 2000 and just this year in June a Regional Consultation on Safe Street foods had been organised. Some of the recommendation of the same will be presented by my colleague in Session five (or four?) and I am sure many of these will be taken into account in the final recommendations.
Like previous events, I hope that this workshop will provide a very useful forum for exchanging knowledge on various aspects of food for the cities thereby working towards resilient food systems in Asian cities.
I am extremely happy that we have key resource persons from different countries, various organizations and different sectors. We have experts from India, Thailand, China, Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore who have kindly agreed to share their experiences and give different perspectives in the areas as highlighted earlier. We also have more than 50 participants from over 13 countries including resource persons.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I trust that this regional workshop will provide all the countries as well as resource persons a good opportunity to share information on issues in connection with building resilient food systems in cities and identifying solutions and developing country as well regional action plans to address the issues.
At the end of the workshop, we are expecting outputs in terms of
- Country and regional action plans with priorities and key investment areas
- Recommendations for international organizations with regard to resilient food systems in the cities of Asia
- Concept of national and regional coordination mechanism
- Project outline(s) for technical interventions
Finally, I wish you a successful workshop and look forward to the successful outcome of your deliberations in this crucial field of food for the cities.