Mr Elhaut, Director, IFAD,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
A pleasant good morning to all of you.
It is our great pleasure to have you all here at FAO’s regional office for Asia and Pacific to deliberate on the critical issues relating to poverty alleviation and hunger reduction in the region.
First of all, on behalf of my FAO colleagues and myself, allow me to convey warm greetings and welcome you all to Bangkok and to this High-level Round Table on Pro-poor Policy Formulation and Implementation at the Country Level. This is organized as part of a regional programme being implemented by FAO with support from IFAD, which aims to enhance the institutional capacity of eight countries of the Asia-Pacific region to analyze, formulate and implement pro-poor agricultural and rural development policies. We are greatly honoured and privileged to have you all here at the Regional Office.
You may all recall that the United Nations Millennium Summit in 2000 endorsed a Millennium Declaration setting out a global agenda at the start of the 21st Century to promote human development and reduce inequality. Among the eight Millennium Development Goals, eradicating extreme poverty and hunger is the first and foremost goal to be achieved by 2015.
The Asia and Pacific region, as you all know, has achieved dramatic progress towards reducing poverty and hunger in the past two decades. The economic growth in the region has far exceeded the average for all developing countries and for the world as a whole.
However, let us not forget that the fruits of development have not been shared equally across countries and within the countries of the region. Progress in fighting poverty and hunger has been dominated by China and India, the two most populous countries of the world. In fact, despite the impressive overall progress, the region remains home to about two-thirds of the world’s poor living on less than $1 a day and to about 540 million undernourished people.
It is well established by now that higher economic growth rates are generally followed by larger reductions in poverty, but not always. In other words, growth is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for poverty reduction. Since the vast majority of the poor live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, achieving larger reductions in poverty requires that high overall growth rates must be accompanied by strong agricultural growth and rural development. There is enough evidence to support this view. For example, China adopted an agriculture-led development strategy in the early 1980s and was able to achieve high growth rates followed by a rapid reduction in poverty.
Development experience in the region and beyond has amply shown that pro-poor agricultural and rural development policies improve livelihood opportunities for the poor and help narrow the gap between the poor and the rich. Pro-poor policies are not only about targeting development to the poor. These are also about setting in place the overall system, rules and parameters for service delivery. They are about improving governance, promoting decentralization and participatory development processes and ensuring equitable access for all to productive resources and social services such as health and education.
Pro-poor policies can change the course of an economy and reshape a society. For example, the introduction of the household responsibility system in 1978 was a major contributor to rapid growth of agriculture and massive reduction in poverty and hunger in China. Nepal was experiencing deforestation at an alarming rate in the 1980s. But this was turned around with the forest legislation of 1993 under the Government of Nepal’s community forest policy. By the end of the 1990s, not only did the rate of deforestation slow down, but forest cover and biomass also improved in many areas.
The structure and contents of pro-poor policies must vary according to country-specific contexts and needs, since one size does not fit all. However, there are many commonalities among the countries of the region that make a regional sharing of pro-poor policy experiences relevant and possible. While each country can learn from its own context-specific past and present experiences, it can also gain considerable insights from the lessons learned and the best practices piloted in other countries of the region.
In order to translate this learning into sound pro-poor policies, these policies must be crafted with a good understanding not only of the resource endowments and potentials of farmers but also their priorities, aspirations and motivations. What we think is good for them may not be what they really want.
Therefore conventional wisdom, economic theory and experiences from elsewhere must be tempered with adequate policy dialogues with stakeholders. This underscores the need to have a people-centred, holistic approach of country-specific identification, analysis and formulation of policies with full participation by stakeholders.
Most critically, this process must also involve a strong element of capacity building so the countries concerned can perform these tasks themselves without, or with less, external support in the future.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I do not wish to take up too much of your time. We have much to hear from you on the programme as well as on how it could best achieve the goal of assisting you in pro-poor policy formulation and implementation in your respective countries. I understand that in the past two days, the national focal points and the members of the Regional Advisory Group have met to discuss and share the programme activities, progress and issues, and have also identified areas where your personal attention and guidance will be necessary. I believe your guidance will be critical for timely and full-scale implementation of the programme and for maximizing its impact at the country level.
I thank you for your kind attention.