Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Hiroyuki Konuma

FAO Regional Representative for Asia-Pacific



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

delivered at the

Regional Consultation on
“Improving Wheat Productivity in Asia”

Rama Garden  Hotel, Bangkok
26-27 April 2012


Distinguished participants,
Dear colleagues from CIMMYT, ICARDA and JIRCAS and Development partners,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to chair this extremely important regional consultation “Improving Wheat Productivity in Asia” jointly organized by FAO and APAARI in collaboration with CIMMYT, ICARDA and JIRCAS. On behalf of FAO’s new Director-General Mr. Jose Graziano da Silva and on, my own behalf, I warmly welcome all of you to this consultation. I express my deepest thanks to CIMMYT, ICARDA and JIRCAS to be with FAO in organizing this event jointly.

Dear all,

As we are approaching the year 2015, it is becoming increasingly clear that not all countries in this region will be able to achieve the MDG target 1, in spite of their tireless and dedicated efforts.  As you all know, FAO has been assisting member countries in advancement of food security in a comprehensive and integrated approach since 1996 when FAO arranged the World Food Summit (WFS). It was followed up by “Rome Decleration-2009”, where FAO reminded all member countries that we would have to work harder to achieve the MDG target 1. Rome declaration also gave indication of how much food the world would have to produce by 2050 when the global human population will swell to 9.1 billion. The projection of food demand by 2050 has been revised recently that calls for stepping up food production by 60 percent globally and 77 percent in developing countries.

Dear participants,

Food security of this region depends largely on the availability of rice and wheat - two key staple crops underlying food security of Asian peoples. China and India are two Asian countries that are major producers of rice and wheat and the two together contribute more than a quarter of the global population.

FAO-IRRI arranged a similar regional consultation on “Increasing rice productivity in underexploited areas of South Asian countries” during 10-11 March 2011. As an outcome of this consultation, a project proposal was developed and funding assistance is being explored with some donors.

It indicates that FAO remains focused in its attention to these two important crops vital for food security in Asian countries. It is also worth mentioning that the Asian region is the net importer of wheat and productivity growth of this crop has not growing at expected level.  In this backdrop, we are meeting today here to discuss how to increase productivity of wheat in Asian countries further to meet their future demand. The other purpose is to inform member countries about the current status of research and development in wheat so that they can make decisions and undertake appropriate timely initiatives to improve production of wheat.

Dear colleagues,

Wheat, being a stable food of vast populations in Asia, remains at the centre of agricultural policies assuming strategic significance from the perspective of food security. Different agencies have made estimation of the demand of wheat and its production across the world by 2050. According to FAO estimation, only 9 percent of production increase will come from land expansion in developing countries. What is important to note that the regions where the biggest population gains will take place are not where most of the world’s wheat is grown. The demand of wheat will increase in the countries of the tropical and subtropical regions.

It is in this backdrop that global agricultural governance remains consummately focused on developing new and effective mechanisms for intensification of wheat research and development in developing countries. The meeting of the G20 Agriculture Ministers held during 22-23 June 2011 in Paris adopted an Action Plan that envisaged launching of an International Research Initiative for Wheat Improvement (IRIWI). In August 2011, the International Centre for Development of Wheat and Maize (CIMMYT) and the ICARDA submitted a new proposal “ WHEAT – Global Alliance for Improving Food Security and the Livelihoods of the Resource-poor in the Developing World” to the CGIAR consortium board. This ambitious initiative, to be implemented in collaboration with Bioversity International, ICRISAT, IFPRI, ILRA, and IWMI, envisages participation of 86 National Agricultural Research Institutes, 13 Regional and International Organizations, 71 Universities and Advanced Research Centres, 15 Private Sector Organizations, and 14 Non-governmental Organizations in 20 host countries. We are also aware of the important commitments made and actions taken at the L’ Aquila Summit of the G20. We consider this consultation would be very much helpful in furthering these initiatives.

Global wheat production in 2010 reached 651 million tons, of which Asia produced 292 million tons. The demand for wheat in this region is growing faster than other cereals, indicating the need for a renewed thrust on this crop.  By 2050, we have to produce around 500 million tons of wheat to meet the demand. There is also indication that the global wheat trade will be doubled by 2050 from the current 125 million tons and major importers will be the Asian countries. It is expected that India’s wheat production will continue to post increases toward 2050 but will likely increase at a slower rate than its population growth. The areas of potential growth in consumption fuelled by income-induced growth in demand are countries like India, China, South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Viet Nam, Philippines and Bangladesh where the level of consumption are relatively low. In Bangladesh, the estimated demand of wheat by 2020 is around 6 million tons from its current production of less than 1 million ton. It is just one example.  

Of late, global harvested area under wheat has been decreasing reaching the level of 217 million ha in 2007. On the yield front, too, average yield of wheat in Asia was 2.88 t/ha in 2010 which was lower than the world average of 2.99 t/ha and substantially lower than in some European countries. Wheat productivity in Asian counties fell in 2010 from the level of 2.96 t/ha in 2009 and 2.82 t/ha in 2008. However, inter-country variability of wheat production in Asia remains substantial.

The slowdown in growth of productivity is remarkable in many Asian countries except China. In Bangladesh, steep decline in wheat cropped area in Bangladesh, at 8.72% per annum, led to negative growth of yield between 2000 and 2010. Growth in productivity of wheat in other South Asian countries and Iran was also sluggish in the range 0.42% – 1.62% per annum. In Kazakhstan, a key Central Asian country, a steady expansion of wheat cultivation at 2.8% per annum since 2000 reaching 13.13 million ha in 2010 witnessed high fluctuations in annual production leading to 0.52% annual decline of yield over the same period. Unlike other Asian countries, China scored a phenomenal success in wheat production thanks to investments the country made in development and rapid diffusion of modern technologies of wheat production. Between 2000 and 2010, cropped area under wheat in China shrank from 26.65 million ha in 2000 to 24.25 million ha in 2010, yet yields recorded a steady 2.92% annual growth from 3.74 t/ha in 2000 to 4.75 t/ha in 2010.

This is a reminder that while there are opportunities to increase wheat production, the challenges are also enormous to sustain those gains. In the past, we had scored considerable success in food production that came, as available evidences suggest, at a cost of substantial damages to the environment. Few would now dispute abandoning this growth path and, instead, seek future growth in productivity to come in an environmentally sustainable manner. This was reflected in FAO’s new programmatic agenda on “sustainable crop production intensification and diversification with an eco-system approach” that was elaborated in a recently published book . “Save and Grow”. I am also pleased to inform you that in recently completed APRC , held in Viet Nam during 12-16 March 2012-this new approach was highly appreciated and FAO DG mentioned that sustainable food production and consumption would remain FAO’s main priority area of intervention.

Dear all,

This essentially gets us to the bottom line – increases in both production and productivity of wheat should be environmentally sustainable and one way of achieving this is to make wheat production systems stable by eliminating risks and vulnerabilities in its production. Greater stability and sustainable increase in productivity would allow releasing land currently under wheat for diversification into other more profitable and high-value crops. Wheat, being less demanding than rice for water, also offers the advantage of cutting the use of irrigation water which is increasingly becoming a scarce input.

In fact, several factors seem to be at work that can be blamed for low yields of wheat – impure seed, late sowing causing the reproductive growth stage to come under high temperature stress, traditional method of cultivation, non-availability of irrigation water, and ineffective control of pests and weeds. Substantial existing gaps between on-station and on-farm yields point to a great scope for enhanced wheat production through better farm management and agronomic practices.

Our understanding is that scientific efforts must concurrently focus on both “breeding” and “agronomy” to expedite development of suitable production packages to tailor newly developed varieties of wheat to target environments. Past experience shows that over emphasis on only one aspect of crop improvement neglecting the other didn’t produce desired results. The tools and techniques of molecular genetics and modern biotechnology have far expanded the capability of breeders to more efficiently and expeditiously create and utilize genetic diversity including genebank materials in development of more suitable and better varieties. Innovative methods and approaches are also available for development of appropriate crop management technologies. A sustained focus on both fronts holds the key to achieving productivity gains in wheat.

With little prospects for increasing arable land, particularly in rapidly urbanizing and industrializing Asia, development and commercialization of biotech wheat is another area that can be explored for increasing production through improved yields. In short, we must give due attention to all options by unlocking the potentials of science, technology, and best management practices.

We are firmly confident that these issues, among others, will be discussed in this forum in details in the next two days. These discussions will steer the consultation to coming up with practical recommendations for further actions in collaboration with development partners with the ultimate goal to reduce poverty and hunger in this region. FAO attaches utmost priority to this consultation to gain new insights into the problems of productivity gains in wheat and their possible solutions. Our expectation from this forum is extremely high and that’s why we have tried our best to ensure participation of best scientists of the region in this consultation. We have also tried to bring together, as much as possible, country representatives, development partners and international institutions to stimulate a lively scientific and development-oriented discussion in search of durable solutions. 

In this context, FAO and APARRI have joined hands in mobilizing resources to make this meeting successful and look forward to similar collaboration in implementing recommendations to be adopted in this meeting.

I would like to thank all of our development partners for accepting our invitation and again thank APAARI for their excellent cooperation. We are very grateful to CIMMYT, ICARDA and JIRCAS to agree to our request to support this consultation and also for their participation. We in FAO look forward to the deliberations and outcomes of this consultation and will be happy to work further with our partner agencies and member countries for improving their food security of the poor people through wheat productivity gain in this region.

I wish you fruitful deliberations and a pleasant stay in Thailand.