Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Hiroyuki Konuma

FAO Regional Representative for Asia-Pacific

WELCOME ADDRESS

by

He Changchui
Assistant Director-General and
Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific

Delivered at the

Orientation Meeting for
"Enhancing Agricultural Competitiveness of Rural Households in the GMS"

FAORAP, Bangkok
15 July 2008

Lao delegates from Champasak Province
Officers from the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives of Thailand
Partners from SWIFT Co., Ltd.



Good morning all of you.

I would like to first extend a warm welcome to you to the FAO regional office for Asia and the Pacific, especially a warm welcome to Bangkok for delegates from Champasak. The purpose of the Orientation Meeting today is to first of all, share the larger framework of this regional project, as well as some technical matters on contract farming and marketing that we at FAO have learned through other projects in the region, and finally, to discuss further steps on the Contract Vegetables for Neighboring Markets Laos-Thailand pilot project.

This project "Enhancing Agricultural Competitiveness of Rural Households in Greater Mekong Subregion" has been formulated by FAO together with IFAD, the International Fund for Agricultural Development in an attempt to improve livelihoods, income and agricultural competitiveness of rural households in the context of a regionally integrated Greater Mekong Sub-region. This is also an exciting attempt to approach the challenge by promoting South-South Cooperation through the TCDC, or Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries modality, aimed to foster collective self-reliance and a spirit of partnership among developing countries. In this regard, the government as well as the private sector of Thailand has been deeply involved in the formulation of the project, and will be taking on an important role, as potential business partners and technical advisers to share successful experiences in agriculture and marketing from Thailand. This is a test of new modality public-private partnership.

Although, there are net economic benefits from economic integration, poor households are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of transition as they face competition from more efficient commercial producers in neighbouring countries and have few buffer assets to facilitate a gradual process of adjustment. As goods, people and information move across borders, there are many hurdles for the small farmers, such as informal fees and payments demanded at borders. There are economies of scale which work against the small farmers. As we are aware of these constraints which poor rural households face, this project is designed not only to help initiate remedial action but also to influence trade policy formulation by identifying weaknesses in the existing national policy and legislative frameworks for further action by central planning units and technical ministries.

There are many good practices which can be useful. Viable market options for poor rural households can be found within local markets and neighbouring countries, in growing urban centres and in certain export markets. To successfully make the transition to competitive market oriented agriculture, rural poor households need market information, new technology and skills, easy access to rewarding markets, well functioning commodity chains for transporting, processing and selling and formalising relationships with other commodity chain actors.

The pilot project in which you are engaged as facilitators or partners for poor rural farming households in Champasak province, will indeed be a challenge. But with your dedicated work, this may also prove as a showcase for regional market linkage opportunities and mechanisms which will benefit the small farmers Champasak in sustainable ways, and may also be replicated on a larger scale.

I hope that this session will serve as an introduction in coming to a shared vision of the opportunities for small farmers and the necessary mechanisms to attain them. Also, I hope that the visits to the farms in Thailand will instil insights and encouragement for you to move ahead in your pilot project. I wish you a successful training programme in Thailand, and success in your tasks ahead.

Thank you.