Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Hiroyuki Konuma

FAO Regional Representative for Asia-Pacific



He Changchui
Assistant Director-General and
Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific

Delivered at the

Land Watch mid-term workshop

Viengtai Hotel, Bangkok, 10-11 March 2008

Father Francis Lucas, Chairperson, ANGOC,
John Samuel, Regional Coordinator, Action Aid Asia,
Bruce Moore, Coordinator, ILC
Representatives of ILC and ANGOC Partners,
Colleagues and friends,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is indeed a pleasure for me to attend today’s opening session of the Land Watch Mid-Term Workshop on Bangkok, and share with you FAO’s perspectives on this important subject.

I am pleased to note that with a small secretariat hosted at IFAD, the International Land Coalition (ILC), an alliance of intergovernmental, civil society and governmental organizations, has presently around 60 members from civil society and intergovernmental organizations, and is closely linked to the UN System Network on Rural Development and Food Security. Practical actions and inter-organizational alliances at the local, national, and international levels drive ILC’s aim for improved access by the poor to land and related productive assets. This is well reflected in ILC’s Strategic framework for 2001-2011 which has “Putting a pro-poor land agenda into practice” as the main theme.

Indeed, access to land is important as a basis for food security, for social and economic development, as a safety net for people to be able to deal with agricultural and economic shocks, to support cultural identity and the preservation of fragile and marginal lands.

NGOs have made important contributions through information sharing and advocacy work on behalf of and with grassroot actors, and in their collaboration with national governments and donors. Increased participation of stakeholders from different sectors and spheres of influence in land reform reduces violent conflict over land and leads to more efficient use of land. Also increased attention to women's access to land, as well as women's roles as agents of change is essential to sustainable livelihoods in rural areas.

The Asian context

As FAO’s chief corporate advisor on regional issues and local concerns in Asia and the Pacific, allow me to shortly elaborate our main programme priorities in the region.

Asia and the Pacific today accounts for over 58 percent of the global population, and about 70 percent of the worlds rural households live in this region. Yet per capita arable and permanent cropland availability in the region is only 0.16 ha, compared to 0.37 ha in the rest of the world. An estimated 545 million people in the region are undernourished, comprising 65 percent of the world's ill-fed. Women and children, ethnic minorities and persons with disabilities constitute a disproportionately high percentage of the vulnerable.

Despite limited natural resource endowments and its massive, mainly youthful, population base, Asia and the Pacific made substantial inroads in eradicating poverty and food insecurity during the last three decades. Since 1945, the region's economy grew faster than in any other region. As a result, more than 250 million poor were rescued out of poverty trap during the same period. Never before in the history of the region have so large numbers of people been lifted out of poverty in such a short time. Literacy rates have considerably increased, and improved nutrition and public health programmes have raised life expectancies by over a generation in only half a century.

These past achievements form the context for new advances, many in critical development areas: extensive education and agricultural research networks; developments in information and communications technologies; modern biotechnology; institutional reforms and social innovations in development including governance, decentralization; foreign direct investment; growing regional and global economic linkages; and international trade.

Broader citizen participation in decision-making and governance is reflected in the dynamics of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), increased women's suffrage and decision-making processes open to multistakeholder participation. Information flows more freely in the media and within civil societies.

Enabling policy and economic environments have led to many success stories, including unique rural development models: from agro-industrial entrepreneurship, cooperatives, and rural financial systems to farmer field schools in integrated pest management.

Against this rapid progress there have been setbacks due to man-made or natural disasters. The El Niño events brought widespread devastating droughts and can be considered – although no firm scientific evidence might exist at present – as early indications of climate change in the region. The Asian economic crisis of the late 1990s slowed growth in several countries and affected the livelihoods of millions of people. The severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic in 2003 and the avian influenza outbreaks in Asia since early 2004 caused enormous economic losses and also threatened human health.

Many factors in the region affect its ability to achieve sustainable food security for all. Ensuring access to food for the hungry and poor will persist as a major challenge within the strategic time horizon towards 2015. In this context, FAO is expanding and enhancing partnerships, also for the identification and analysis of the important trends in the agricultural sector likely to have the greatest impact on achievement of sustainable agriculture and rural development. Of particular concern are the strong link between population growth and poverty, especially among the most deprived; rising living standards and consumer expectations that impose ever-higher demands on the region’s already strained natural resource base, including forest and aquatic resources; and, more recently, the dramatic price hikes for food, posing serious challenges to food importing countries and urban poor.

Global warming and the demand for biofuel

The emerging biofuels market is a new and significant source of demand for some agricultural commodities such as sugar, maize, cassava, oilseeds and palm oil. These commodities, which have predominantly been used as food and feed, are now being grown as feedstock for producing biofuels.

Significant increases in the price of crude oil allow them to become viable substitutes in certain important countries that have the capacity to use them. This possibility is increasingly leading to the implementation of public policies to support the biofuels sector, which further encourages the demand for these feedstocks. At the policy level, this situation require complex trade-offs and economic, social and environmental decisions that will have important repercussions on global agricultural production, access to food and the incomes of rural populations.

Drastic increases of food prices

The recent rapid increases in the international prices of nearly all basic food and feed commodities have raised serious concerns. Those who have the most reason to be concerned are poor and vulnerable people, in particular as there is a strong possibility that the prices may continue to remain high in the near future.

It appears that different forces have created the unique developments observed over the past. On the supply side, there have been weather-related production shortfalls during the last two seasons; a gradual reduction in the level of stocks, mainly of cereals, since the mid-1990s – also because a number of changes in the policy environment of major exporting countries after the Uruguay Round Agreements; and increases in fuel prices have raised the costs not only of producing agricultural commodities, but also of transporting them.

On the demand side, is widely accepted that economic development and income growth in important emerging countries have been gradually changing the structure of demand for food commodities (especially in China and India). Diversifying diets are moving away from starchy foods towards more meat and dairy products, which is intensifying demand for feed grains and strengthening the linkages between different food commodities.

It is therefore necessary to look urgently at these new parameters at the global level to be able to anticipate changes and adopt new strategies, in order to ensure the sound management of natural resources and the environment, achieve adequate agricultural production, and guarantee the food security of a rapidly growing world population.

The way forward

While Asian agriculture remains highly labour intensive, the growth of industries, commerce and the service sectors is drawing the talented and trained to urban areas, leaving the unskilled in rural areas. This out-migration has led to the graying and feminization of farms and fishing villages – rural communities peopled mainly by the elderly and women. Other demographic trends also play a key role in vital developmental and environmental issues. In addition, livelihood opportunities are not promising for a sector which employs over 50 percent of the labour force while contributing less than 10 percent to national GDP in most developing countries of the region.

At the same time it is recognized that there is growing inequity among countries in the region as well as at national and local levels. Average farm size is declining in many countries, and size distribution is increasingly skewed towards small farms. Increased occupation of marginal lands also exacerbates inequalities in land and water distribution.

Failure to consider equity in development and governance – including issues raised by climate change, globalization and trade liberalization – will further marginalize vulnerable groups, especially women, small producers and landless farmers. Some countries can no longer put off the formidable tasks of comprehensive agrarian reform.

While subsistence-oriented agriculture is in transition, industrialization and commercialization increase. The needed growth in agricultural production must come from intensification and wider use of modern technology. Capacity building and investment in natural resource conservation and technology transfer are, as a consequence, rising in priority. As a result, intervention strategies and requests for external assistance are likely to increase, especially in: biotechnology, efficient water use, integrated pest management, nutrient and weed management, food safety, on-farm diversification, agribusiness and marketing.

Land Watch Asia

Land Watch Asia is a NGO-initiated regional campaign geared towards ensuring that issues of access to land, agrarian reform, and equitable and sustainable development in rural areas are addressed in the national and regional development agendas. It shall map the rural poor’s access to land in the region by reviewing existing political and legal frameworks; initiatives and mechanisms for participation by various stakeholders in governance processes. It aims to contribute to existing campaigns by identifying through consensus building the context, challenges and opportunities of access to land and agrarian reform campaigns at regional and national levels.

FAO shares these concerns. Over the past 30 years, livelihoods, food security, people's health and long-term sustainable development have been threatened by increasing degradation of the natural resources. Such environmental degradation has also increased the risks of natural disasters. Growing populations, urbanization, widespread poverty, ineffective governance, ambiguous property rights, weak institutions and inappropriate policies continue to exacerbate an alarming situation.

Pressure on land, forest, water and aquatic resources in Asia and the Pacific is the most severe compared to other regions in the world. 850 million hectares, representing more than 28 percent of the region's land area, are affected by some form of land degradation. Deforestation, inappropriate agricultural practices, inefficient irrigation water use, excessive groundwater extraction and industrial development continue to contribute to land, soil and water degradation. Soil erosion and nutrient mining have reduced the agricultural potential of vast areas.

Countries in the region generally recognize the need to shift from exploitative land management practices to more sustainable, equitable, economically viable and productive patterns of food production and natural resource management. Many governments have initiated far-reaching policy, legal, and institutional reforms for the management and use of natural resources and biodiversity. Some have adopted the participatory approach.

These positive responses are supported by an improvement in available information, increased environmental awareness by NGOs and civil society, increasing incomes, the adoption of international environmental agreements and treaties, safety standards, codes of practice and criteria and indicators for sustainable management. However, inadequate law enforcement and weak capacities in participatory policy formulation and implementation hinder the effectiveness of present efforts.

The challenge is to balance the elements of change, namely people, policy, technology and resources, for effective and equitable natural resource management. Particular difficulties reside in developing and implementing proper checks and balances, and managing potential conflicts between concerns for the public interest and legitimate aspirations for socio-economic development. Furthermore, the right combination of regulations, devolution of authority, coordinating initiatives between the various levels of decision-making and management, and financing conservation and sustainable use of natural resources require urgent attention.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Realizing our common vision – achieving food security through sustainable agriculture and rural development in Asia and the Pacific – ultimately depends on actions taken by global, regional, national and local stakeholders, the mobilization of considerable resources, as well as support and assistance from the international community.

In concluding, I should like to highlight that FAO’s mandate and programme of work cover crops, livestock, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture, and issues related to water, land, natural resources and biodiversity as well as rural development. But, FAO alone can not complete the tasks. I should reiterate our call for our stakeholders for urgent initiatives to address those challenges which will have a major impact on our ability to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. FAO will continue to build on and/or coordinate with existing UN and other international mechanisms. One example is the UN System Network on Rural Development and Food Security, which is managed by FAO in close collaboration with IFAD, WFP and the International Land Coalition.

I greatly appreciate the invitation from ANGOC to me to deliver an FAO statement today. FAO welcomes your timely mid-term review of the Land Watch Coalition. This and related initiatives – such as ICARRD and the International Alliance against Hunger – are directed at both creating an enabling environment for as well as directing efforts aimed at achieving our shared goals as stipulated in the WFS Plan of Action and the UN Millennium Development Goals.

I wish you a successful outcome for the workshop, and look forward to further strengthen our partnership. My colleague Wim Polman, rural development officer, will represent FAO during your two day meeting and participate in your deliberations. He will also report back to me on the outcome of your workshop.

Thank you.