Distinguished senior officials from FAO Member Countries,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
A pleasant good morning to all of you.
First of all, allow me to convey warm greetings and welcome you all to Bangkok and to this Brainstorming Session. We have organized it as part of the FAO Initiative on Soaring Food Prices (ISFP), which aims at assisting member governments in their efforts to tackle the current food crisis through rapid increases in food production.
While I do express my apologies for the extremely short notice at which this Brainstorming Session was organized, I am grateful for the promptness with which you and your governments responded positively to our proposal, thus making clear the strength of your commitment to address the issue soaring food prices.
I do not need to remind you of the seriousness of the situation that has brought us here. Despite strong economic growth, the Asia-Pacific region is still home to about two-thirds of the world’s poor living on less than $1 a day and to about 520 million undernourished people. As we all know, poor households spend the bulk of their income on food. For them price increases can be a matter of life and death. And yet, we have seen the price of rice – the region’s staple food – shooting up on a weekly and even daily basis in recent months, until it has reached levels not seen since the last food crisis in the early 1970s. This situation, which some have called the Silent Tsunami is likely to reverse the gains of the last decade in poverty and hunger reduction and threatens not only the food security of the poor but also social stability in low income food deficit countries. This development is partly a result of undue complacency about the food situation in the 1990s and gross underinvestment in agriculture about which FAO has been alerting the stakeholders time and again.
The present situation can be seen both as a challenge and an opportunity to underscore the crucial role of agricultural growth in the overall welfare of people worldwide. As agricultural commodity prices had been declining in real terms over the last three decades, the recent upsurge in their prices can make investment in agriculture attractive and lead to accelerated growth in productivity, as it happened in wake of the food crisis in the ‘60s and early 70s. However, the small farmers in Asia may not be able to seize this opportunity due to various physical, technical and financial constraints. Thus, there is a critical role for the public sector to create an enabling environment and to provide support services. An equally important task is to ensure food security of the poor and vulnerable people.
Through this Brainstorming Session we hope to take stock of the situation and consider various options available to us to mitigate the adverse impact and to turn the challenge into an opportunity. This gathering has three objectives. First, through information sharing, we hope to obtain a better understanding of the impact of soaring food prices on the food security situation and the measures undertaken by the five countries represented here to mitigate any adverse impacts.
We believe that sharing of information on specific short to medium-term policy actions by governments can be useful in learning from each other to enhance the quality of responses and the effectiveness of their implementation. In this context, it will be particularly interesting to know the institutional mechanisms, such as national committees, to coordinate and focus actions by different agencies on soaring food prices.
The third objective is to help facilitate identification of country-specific priority actions in short and medium-term to mitigate immediate hardships and create sustainable basis for greater availability and enhanced access to food.
This brainstorming need to be action oriented, focusing sharply on quick, concrete actions to improve productivity in the current agricultural season and over the next two seasons. Clearly, most of the actions are to be designed and implemented by the concerned countries with full national ownership. Our role is to facilitate this process with technical assistance and I assure we will do our best to fulfill this responsibility. During the multi-disciplinary team work in breakout groups, one for each country, you will have an opportunity to draw up a list of priorities for rapid actions. Our professional staff stands ready to assist you in this task. Please feel free to draw upon their expertise.
The output from this meeting, I hope, will be useful for preparing a country input to FAO’s Global Plan of Action to be formulated by early May 2008. Following this, FAO will take steps to provide assistance in the form of multi-disciplinary teams assigned to work with you in further fleshing out and implementing the priority actions each country identified.
Ladies and gentlemen! I do not wish to take too much of your time. The need of the hour is action. Let us get down to work.
I thank you for your kind attention.