Your Royal Highness, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn,
Your Excellency, Dr Yukol Limlamthong, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives, Royal Thai Government,
Dr Noeleen Heyzer, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of Economics and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP),
Excellencies, Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,
On behalf of the Director-General of FAO, Jose Graziano da Silva, and on my own behalf, I have the honour to welcome you all to the World Food Day Regional Observance Asia and the Pacific 2013.
Your Royal Highness, we are especially honoured by your presence to preside over today’s World Food Day celebration. On behalf of all present here, I wish to express our heartfelt gratitude.
We are also privileged by the presence of Dr Noeleen Heyzer, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary, Economics and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) who has kindly agreed to be a keynote speaker and share with us her insights on the theme of “Sustainable Food Systems for Food Security and Nutrition”. I wish to thank you Dr. Heyzer for your participation, despite of your busy schedule and physical difficulties.
Today, we celebrate the World Food Day, as the Southeast Asia has achieved both the World Food Summit target and the MDG No.1 Hunger Goal, and reduced by half both the number and the proportion of undernourished people in 2013, two years ahead of the target date. Thailand has received an Achievement Award from the Director-General of FAO for its contribution to the remarkable progress in improving the nutritional status of people. According to the latest statistics released jointly by FAO, WFP and IFAD last month, the proportion of undernourished in Asia in 2013 declined from 14.7 percent to 13.5 percent in past three years, and became very closer to the MDG Target of 12 percent. Yes, we are in good track and achieving the MDG Hunger Goal by 2015 is within our reach.
On the contrary to this good news, however, one person in every eight in the world is undernourished. One out of four children in the world under the age of five is stunted. This means 165 million children who are so undernourished; they will never reach their physical and intellectual potential. The situation poses more serious concern as nearly 2 billion people or 30 percent of world population lack vitamins and minerals that are essential for growth and good health, and around 1.4 billion people are overweight, of which 500 million are obese and facing risks of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes. The high food prices which remain nearly 50 percent higher in real terms than the level in a decade ago make poor people more vulnerable.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
While the world, at present, produces more than sufficient foods to meet the needs of everyone, food systems are not sustainable nor fully functioning. For example, approximately 60 percent of the world’s ecosystems are degraded or used unsustainably, and our food production depends heavily on these resource bases. Arable land area and water resources which are essential for future expansion of food production are stagnated or declining. Productivity growth of major staple foods such as rice and wheat has been stagnated in past decade which was slower than the pace of population growth. Almost one thirds of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally, which accounts to about 1.3 billion tons per year. Nearly 45 percent of vegetables and fruits, and 30 percent of cereals were lost during supply chain after harvest. About 20-25 percent of foods are wasted in developed countries after they are cooked and served on dining tables. Only four major staple foods; rice, wheat, maize and potato dominate 60 percent of our total calorie intake and they are often affected by price volatilities and targeted for price speculations. Loss of indigenous food resources, food diversity and bio-diversity is another alarming factor which would negatively affect future sustainability of food systems.
Let’s look at our future, for example year 2050. The world population is expected to exceed 9 billion by that time, and FAO estimates that world has to increase food production by 60 percent by 2050 to meet the demand. FAO estimates that the world would be able to achieve this production target by 2050, on the understanding that over 90 percent of production increase should come from existing arable land through agricultural research and yield increase. However, there are huge challenges. Declining water resources, degradation of ecosystems, stagnation of productivity growth and so on. The most critical uncertainties are impact of climate changes and bio-fuel development.
In worst scenario, it is estimated that production areas might be reduced by 29-39 percent by 2080 due to surface temperature increase. Bio-fuel crop production might heavily compete with food production on the use of land and water, if there is no policy to harmonize bio-energy development and protect consumers from food insecurity. In the worst case, there would be a risk of food export bans by exporting countries to protect their own consumers, food price hike and volatility, food shortage, food riots, social instability, terrorism, etc, which would eventually affect everyone. There is a need to build up a mutual trust among food exporting and importing countries , and maximise existing cooperation framework such as ASEAN to ensure sustainable food and nutrition security.
In conclusion, Asia and the Pacific Region made a good progress in achieving MDG hunger goal and beyond, and moving towards eradicating hunger by 2025 through the implementation of zero hunger challenge. However, malnutrition remains as a serious short–term challenge and threat which require integrated actions including bio-fortification, behaviour change, advocacy, nutrition education, school gardening, sanitation, child and maternal nutrition and health care, etc. On the other hand, potential risks of food insecurity in next 20-30 years need to be assessed and carefully analysed.
Finally, on the occasion of World Food Day, I wish to convey my gratitude to you all for your presence this morning. I wish to convey four key important messages:
- Good nutrition depends on healty diets;
- Sustainable diets require healthy food systems – along with education, health, sanitation and other factors;
- Sustainable food systems are made possible by appropriate policies, incentives and governance, and lastly; and,
- Let’s work together and double our efforts towards eradicating hunger.
Thank you for your kind attention.