It is an honour and pleasure for me to deliver an opening address at this APAARI/ANGOC/GFAR Asia-Pacific Regional Workshop on Agricultural Research for Development in Bangkok. I am particularly pleased as your invitation is a clear reflection of the importance two key networks in Asia attach to partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and our joint drive to solve the problem of world hunger.
Despite the continuous growth in the world economy and sufficient food availability at the global level, more than 852 million people are chronically hungry. At present rates of growth and donor aid levels, the World Food Summit (WFS) target of halving the number of undernourished people is far from being reached by 2015. Current projections indicate that the world will be required to produce one additional billion tons of food grains to feed an additional two billion people by the year 2030, nearly 90 percent of whom will be in the developing countries.
Our planet is facing almost insurmountable challenges, challenges that governments on their own cannot fix. In order to survive and progress, we need to collectively embrace and adapt to changes; we need to strengthen our ability to provide life's essentials of food for an expanding human population; in short, we require major advances in science and technology.
Understanding major forces prevailing in the Asia-Pacific region further sheds light on the challenges and concerns we need to address: globalization and market liberalization; decentralization and governance, commercialization and agri-business. But also democratization and participation, the “inclusive”-concept of sustainable development, and the breakthrough of information and communications technology, as well as the potential and promises of emerging sciences and technology, just to name of few.
Priorities and Policies for agricultural research
Science and technology is a production force, said the late Chinese leader Deng Xiao Ping. Undeniably, it is an advance production force. But, in today’s changing world, agricultural science and technology research needs to address the implications of climate changes and global warming, and increased variability and more frequent and intense natural disasters, such as droughts, floods and other extreme events. In this connection, agricultural mitigation and adaptation to climate change should be brought up as a priority on the international agricultural research agenda.
Development and safe use of bio-technology require bio-security regimes and transparency, particularly when used for improvement in crop production, nutrition and fortifying of micro nutrients, for example. Both enhanced basic studies and applied research are needed to safeguard human health and environmental security, including preservation of bio-diversity. But regretfully, this vital work is often compromised, if not neglected, due to marginal investment in the sector.
Appropriate policies for meeting these challenges are both necessary and important. Policies will need to function and evolve within a number of dynamic technological, social, economic and institutional constraints and settings. First and foremost, a good policy must enable research agenda setting being “people centered”, and in this connection, small holder farming systems in particular should not be marginalized while promoting economies of scale, competitiveness in the production-processing-marketing chain, and – above all – the utmost goal of research policies should enhance and ensure equitable participation of small scale farmers and their organizations in setting research agendas and fair sharing of the benefits of advancement of sciences and technology.
Not every country needs to develop, or can afford to develop, cutting-edge technologies. But every country does need a minimal national capacity to possess, assess, and use judiciously such scientific knowledge and technology as is consistent with its people’s need and aspirations, and suitably adapted to the local agro-ecological environment. Successful examples in a number of member states have shown that sustained and coordinated institutional support to, and adequate financial investment in agricultural science, research, and development by public sector are two essential policy dimensions to be promoted, along with incentive and innovative policies to encourage private sector’s involvement and investment in agricultural research and development.
Technical-support organizations such as FAO and CGIAR are crucial partners for governments in creating a knowledge and technology base. They bare equally important stakeholders in promoting information dissemination and knowledge application to enhance productivity and to achieve and maintain comprehensive food security, poverty alleviation and equity.
If the power and potential of science and technology are to be realized, comprehensive policy support and investment shall be required to strengthen skills and human resources, infrastructures and institutional services, and enabling regulatory systems – in public sector research institutes as well as in successful farmer/NGO experiments or traditional farming systems. In this connection, FAO’s own farmer field schools ‘model’ goes a long way in promoting such novel approaches, at the same time narrowing the research-development gap.
On a more substantive note, FAO feels that further strengthening the contribution of agricultural research to food security, poverty alleviation and rural development needs a comprehensive approach, covering areas broader than strictly technical studies, such as:
Partnering in Agricultural research and development
- advocacy for greater public investment in agricultural research and development;
- pro-poor policy reform, strategic planning and priority setting;
- strategies for increased public and private sector partnership;
- provision of transparent information including the potential and risk of new technologies;
- strengthening networks and networking aimed at linking research and development with local government and farmer organizations;
- capacity building as vital means for ensuring research and development so that a cadre of appropriately trained manpower is available for different roles.
I should like to stress the role of partnership in agricultural research and the need for international cooperation for harnessing the fruits of science and technology for poverty and hunger reduction.
Participation and full involvement of NGOs in research and development is essential for facilitating and translating research results into direct benefits for farmers. To achieve this, it is necessary to ensure an appropriate civil society voice in multi-stakeholder research agendas. FAO and its partners recognize the capacities of NGOs for technology implementation and outreach, in particular, its unique role in facilitating partnerships in research between formal scientific organizations and farmer networks.
Due to its strong grassroot level presence, many NGOs also have comparative advantages in terms of community -level advocacy and practical field experiences in adaptation of technology for applications to local condition and ecosystems in developing countries.
FAO has a clear strategy to work with NGOs as partner in implementing our global mandate in the fight against hunger. You may recall that we launched the International Alliance Against Hunger, calling on international organizations, governments, research and academic institutions, NGOs, CSOs, private sector, and individuals to work as partners in achieving the MDGs.
I take this opportunity to mention the special relationship and close partnership FAO has enjoyed with APAARI ever since the establishment of this unique Asia-Pacific network of agricultural research institutions. It is a shining example telling how an intergovernmental organization and a non-governmental research network cooperate on a wide range of activities, from biotechnology policy dialogue to training on IPM.
Although now an independent organization, APAARI’s central office in Bangkok is co-located in the FAO regional office, and FAO is a member on two APAARI Standing Committees - the Asia Pacific Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology, and the Asia-Pacific Agricultural Research Information System. We also collaborate during technical meetings, workshops and training sessions, and share information and knowledge in many fields.
In the same vein, I should like to emphasize the excellent and long-standing cooperation enjoyed between ANGOC and the FAO regional office in Bangkok. ANGOC has grown and developed over the years and, of particular interest to FAO, became a key player and Asian member of the International Planning Commission which catalyzed civil society inputs for the World Food Summit.
Allow me to emphasize that we welcome the timely initiative of APAARI and ANGOC under the generous sponsorship of GFAR to jointly organize this regional workshop. I can assure you that FAO is fully committed to work with you all at various levels; global, regional, national and local.
It is indeed our experience that working with civil society organizations enables FAO to increase the effectiveness and quality of its work in agriculture and food security. Through dialogues and consultation with NGOs and CSOs, FAO ensures that its decision-making, policies and scientific research and technical development and assistance programme reflect the interests of all sectors of society.
I applaud the inclusive approach taken by GFAR and APAARI to work closely with federations, associations and local groups representing farmers, fisherfolk and herders to ensure that the aspirations of the poor, the disadvantaged, the marginalized and the hungry are successfully voiced, and heard, and more importantly, acted upon.
While the region has made substantial inroads in eradicating poverty and food insecurity over the last three decades, ensuring access to food for the hungry will persist as a major challenge within the strategic horizon towards 2015. Agriculture's ability to respond to the demand for sustainable production will increasingly rely on its growth as a science and information-based sector.
The need for concerted action at national and regional levels to develop the institutional infrastructure for sustainable agriculture and rural development has become more pronounced, and imposes significant changes in the roles of government, NGOs, civil society organizations and farmers' organizations as well as in the mechanisms used by international organizations as both knowledge organizations and service providers.
Demand-driven participatory agricultural research and extension is key to the relevance and effectiveness of agricultural R&D in promoting sustainable agriculture and rural development. Institutional innovations are needed to make agricultural research and extension more sensitive to the needs of small farmers, in particular women and indigenous people.
Innovative support arrangements need to be developed to facilitate small farmer demand-driven participatory agricultural R&D, and more serious consideration should be given by international communities and governments in providing financial support to its partners, such as farmers’ and non governmental organizations, as well as international and regional agricultural research networks – such as GFAR and APAARI.
Being an optimist I believe that together we can ultimately solve the problem of food for all. But critical problems are now facing our planet, in the long term that of climate change and its impact on agriculture; meanwhile, the current soaring food prices worldwide is a wake up call, as it may nullify the last 7 years’ efforts by international communities and could bring 100 million people in the world back to poverty, as the World Bank cautioned. These are the problems that need to be tackled head on.