Your Excellency, Mr Cao Duc Phat, Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development,
Mr Chairman, Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
On behalf of the Director-General of FAO, Dr. Jose Graziano da Silva, and on my own behalf, I welcome you all to this Senior Officers Meeting of the 31st FAO Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific. At the outset, I wish to convey my gratitude to the Government of Socialist Republic of Viet Nam and in particular , the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development for hosting this important event.
This 31st Regional Conference is not the same one we had in the past. This is a special one, because we have almost all member countries with few exceptions attended today ,out of which over 20 countries represented by the Ministers as the head of the country delegation. This is the first time in our known history. We are also honored to have two new countries; Singapore and Brunei Darussalam, attending as observers as a step towards their FAO membership. These are testimonies to the recognition of the importance of FAO. I wish to thank them all.
In addition, this is the first regional conference being organized in five regions worldwide. The later ones are always easier because they have sufficient time for preparation and can learn experiences from other regional conferences organized earlier. However, being the first one, there were some delay in preparation, especially finalization of some key conference documents. I wish to apologize any inconvenience caused by such delay.
This regional conference is also a special one in a sense that the first time the new Director-General Mr. Graziano is attending after he took over the responsibility just two and a half months ago. One of the most important five pillars of his vision for FAO reform is “institutional reform and decentralization” for which FAO requires major changes to improve its delivery of results at country level and have a significant impact on people’s lives and on countries’ programmes and policies. Having said above, our performance and results deeply depend on partnerships with governments, civil society and the private sector, as well as other UN and regional development organizations and research institutions. In this connection, I wish to welcome many civil society organizations(CSOs), UN agencies, development partners and research institutions attending this regional conference today.
Ladies and gentlemen,
FAO’s vision is of a world free of hunger and malnutrition, where food and agriculture contribute to improving the living standards of all, especially the poor, in an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable manner. The world has been producing enough food for everyone at present, and there have been substantial gains in per capita calorie consumption which rose nearly 17 percent from 2370 kcal/person/day to 2770kcal/person/day over three decades. And yet, in a world of 7 billion people, FAO estimates that a total of 925 million of them ( one in 7.5 people) were undernourished in 2010, which was slightly reduced if compared with the 1 billion estimated in 2009. But it still remained higher than the pre-2008 levels. WHO estimates that 10 million children under age five die every year, and that one third of these deaths are associated with under nutrition. Micronutrient malnutrition or “hidden hunger” is affecting around 2 billion people (nearly 30% of the world population) with serious public health consequences. On the other hand, we must not forget that there are about 1 billion people, nearly equal population of those suffering from chronic hunger, are suffering from excess weight and diet related non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, as a result of excess food intake.
In the Asia and Pacific region, despite the world’s fastest economic growth, there were 578 million undernourished people in 2010, which represented 62% of the global total. Ninety one (91) percent of them live in just 6 countries (India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Philippines). Despite our continued efforts, the absolute numbers remain almost at the same level as 20 years ago. Achievement of the first Millennium Development Goal – to halve the proportion of people in extreme hunger from the 20% in 1990 to 10% by 2015 has become a real challenge as the rate still remained at 16% in 2010. This is contrary to the good progress made in eradicating poverty ,as the region reduced the proportion of people living on less than US$1.25 per day from 50 to 22 percent between 1990 and 2009 as per recent joint ESCAP,UNDP and ADB report.
Eradicating hunger has become more and more complex and challenging in this region in the consequence of increasing and volatile food prices, affected by climate change and frequent occurrence of natural disasters, trade policies of food exporting countries, soaring crude oil prices, increased use of staple foods for bio-energy, and other factors. For the poor, who spend as much as 70% of their household budget on food, high and unpredictable food prices have made their situation worse. It is not difficult to imagine how food price increase was resulted in social and political instability in some of food importing countries. The FAO’s food price index rose by 2 percent to 214 points in January this year—its first increase since July 2011. Moreover, food prices in general still remains two times higher than 10 years ago. In many countries in this region, consumer food prices such as rice and wheat increased by 10-20 percent in past one year. Sustainable increase in food production, affordable and stable food prices as well as targeted safety net for the poor are critical for our success in eradicating hunger.
We now look at the future. The world population is projected to reach 9.2 billion by year 2050. To feed this growing population, recently revised FAO’s projection indicates that world food production would need to increase by 60 percent globally (77 percent in developing countries alone) between 2005/07 and 2050. This would necessitate the annual cereal productivity (yield) growth of 0.8 percent for the same period as against the average annual growth of 1.7 percent achieved during past four decades 1961/63-2005/07. In summary, FAO estimates that it should be possible to meet the food and feed demand of the projected world population of year 2050, based on reasonable assumptions in sustainable yield increase and in land and water use. Achieving this, however, will require several significant challenges to be met including huge investment in agricultural sector such as research and infrastructure development, agricultural extension, training and post-harvest loss reduction, and effective and sustainable natural resource management. On the other hand, major factors of future uncertainties ,especially the impact of climate changes and bio-fuel development need to be dealt with, as a priority, including the promotion of agricultural adaptation and mitigation to climate changes, and harmonization of food security and bio-energy policies and development.
On the other hand, we need to realize that the production focused intervention or cereal based nutrition alone could not solve the all fundamental problems of hunger and under nutrition. While social safety nets, such as conditional cash voucher scheme is an effective tool to secure access and protect the most vulnerable consumers on short–term emergency basis, and nutrition awareness and education must be promoted further, we also need to promote longer- term strategic and social protection actions to promote income and access to adequate and nutritionally balanced food by the poor, especially small scale and landless farmers who constitute the majority of poor and hunger population. Promotion of pro-poor agriculture and rural development policy, crop and agricultural diversification including livestock and fisheries, value chain development, inclusive rural development and employment generation especially for women, strengthening farmer organizations and cooperatives to promote their bargaining power, and the promotion of rural credit and agricultural insurance schemes are some of key areas for immediate attention.
Distinguished delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen
Now, back to the business of the Senior Officers Meeting (SOM) and its agenda, which was drafted and approved in consultation with your governments through the Asia and the Southwest Pacific Group. There are seven Discussion Items including regional priorities, programme and budget, decentralization, Committee on World Food Security (CFS) as well as on the issues related to food security, agriculture and rural development in the region. There are five Information Notes. The Information Notes have been circulated to the delegates and they will not be introduced by the FAO Secretariat. However, delegates may wish to comment on these items under the agenda item No. 16: “Any other matters”. We tried our best to secure sufficient time for discussion on each agenda item. However, if there is a need for additional time to complete discussions, we will be flexibly adjust the time in consultation with you.
Over the next three days, your contribution and deliberations in this meeting will constitute an invaluable input to subsequent high level meetings. The Senior Officers Meeting will report its findings and recommendations to the Ministerial Meeting of this Conference, which will further be presented for decision-making at the FAO Council in June
Before concluding, I would like to express once again our sincere appreciation to our gracious host, the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam, for so generously hosting this Conference. I would like to convey my gratitude to the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development and his competent staff for their cooperation and assistance in organizing this Conference and for the warm welcome and generous hospitality they have shown us. Allow me also to thank you, distinguished delegates, for showing your keen interest and taking time off from your important duties to participate in this Meeting.
Today, we are standing here on the first step of the new era of FAO , which will be built up together with each of you through mutual trust, and strong sense of partnership and joint ownership to make FAO fully working and serve to needs of most needed.
I wish you a productive and successful Meeting, and I thank you again for your kind attention.