Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Hiroyuki Konuma

FAO Regional Representative for Asia-Pacific

OPENING REMARKS

by

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

delivered at the

Expert Consultation on the Development of 
a Regional Sago Network for Asia and the Pacific

Bangkok, Thailand
21 March 2013

 

Good morning everyone,

Firstly,  I wish to welcome you all to Thailand, and to FAO’s Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, or FAO-RAP.  I wish to express my sincere gratitude and appreciation to you all, for taking time off your busy schedules to participate in this important Expert Consultation on the development of a Regional Sago Network for Asia and the Pacific or SNAP.

As you may know, FAO is an United Nations socialized technical agency responsible for agriculture, food security and rural development. It aims to attain a world free from 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.  FAO is, therefore very pleased to host this first Expert Consultation on the development of the SNAP.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The developing world is facing serious food security challenges in alleviating widespread chronic hunger and meeting the target of increasing food production by 77 % by 2050 to address the demand of its rapidly growing population. This target must be met under various constraints such as the stagnation of expansion of arable lands and increasing scarcity of water resources. The promotion of neglected food crops such as sago palm which has a high starch yield potential and which can grow in underutilized swamps and wetlands with minimal competition from other food crops for land and water use, is therefore of growing importance.

 Loss of biodiversity and particularly diversity in food resources with a high level of dependence on major staple foods such as rice, wheat, maize and potatoes, currently poses a global challenge. These four crops account for 60 % of total global caloric intake, and are increasingly targeted by food commodity speculations and price volatility. The value of underutilized indigenous food resources such as sago palm (Metroxylon spp.) should, therefore, be fully recognized, and their effective and sustainable utilization promoted to enhance the availability of locally produced food resources and reduce dependence on imported food starches in the countries where sago palm is produced.

When grown in a suitable environment with organized farming practices, the sago palm could have a yield potential of 10-15 metric tons of dried starch per hectare per year. This starch yield per hectare is approximately 3 to 4 times higher than that of rice or wheat. 

The sago palm provides strong economic, cultural and environmental advantages in the areas where it is grown.

The sago palm:

  • Can grow in swamps and wet land which are not suitable for agricultural production;
  • Is tolerant to drought and floods; and,
  • Has a high starch yield potential (under organized plantation, the starch yield per hectare is approximately 3 to 4 times higher than that of rice or wheat), which can be produced at a low cost when compared with other crops.

The sago palm also

  • Serves as food reserve to meet emergency food needs; and,
  • Promotes farm household income and employment through the production of confectionery and cookies, roofing material from leaves, the production of woven mats and handicrafts, as well as sago worms, etc.

In addition, it serves as 

  • A symbol for the conservation of traditional community linkages and cultural heritage; 
  • Contributes to slowing the pace of global warming through its year-round carbon dioxide absorbing function;
  • Conserves fresh water swamps, thereby creating natural water reservoirs that provide a clean water source all year round to villagers; and, 
  • Helps in the preservation of bio-diversity (plant, aquatic animals, etc.)

Sago starch extracted from the sago palm, offers considerable potential as a raw material for processing at the cottage, small, medium and large scale, into a diversified range of products, as well as for the low cost production of ethanol (including the use of residues and waste) without land competition with other food crops.  Ethanol production from sago starch, in fact, minimises the risk of food insecurity which might be caused by the promotion of ethanol production from other food crops such as cassava.

Despite its environmental and socio-economic benefit, traditional uses and industrial potential, few countries have invested in improving sago palm productivity and in modernizing the extraction of sago starch or in upgrading the technologies used for adding value to sago starch, in order to sustainably maximise the beneficial contribution of this underutilized crop to the Region’s food security.

The multiple benefits and uses of sago palm and its products are not well known to the public, and accordingly sago palm continues to remain neglected and underutilized. The crop has, received relatively little policy attention and  budgetary support from both public and private sectors, and hence there has been almost no policy and strategic approach for long-term planning towards its promotion, sustainable utilization and conservation through research and development, and associated interventions.

FAO has a long history of 40 + years working on the sago palm.  FAO’s work on sago palm development was initiated in the 1970’s.  The level of attention paid to sago palm development, however, declined during the decade 2000 - 2010.  The recent past (refer to the slide), has however, witnessed a resurgence of interest in the sago palm, and your positive feedback and interest has brought us here today to formalise the development of the SNAP.

The SNAP will be a voluntary partnership of stakeholders – including researchers, policy makers, public and private sector entities and representatives of civil society organisations and development partners from across this region.  Its overarching goal will be to enhance the contribution of the sago palm to food security.  

One key output of this Expert consultation will be a strategic framework built around four key thematic areas:

  • Advocacy on sago palm and its utilization;
  • Fostering knowledge sharing and networking,
  • Fostering innovation; and,
  • Developing appropriate policies, strategies and regulatory frameworks

We have formulated these thematic areas on the basis of the feedback that you have provided to us on the concept note, and will be seeking your further inputs to the design of this framework.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We have quite a lot to cover, over the next two days, in order to get the SNAP up and operational. I will, therefore end here, by wishing you all, fruitful deliberations, and look forward to the outcomes of the deliberations of this Expert Consultation.

Thank you.