Dr Arsenio Balisacan, Director, SEARCA
Ladies and Gentlemen
A pleasant good morning to all of you!
First of all, allow me to convey my warm greetings and welcome you all to Thailand and to this beautiful city of Chiangmai on behalf of the Director-General of FAO Jacques Diouf, my RAP colleagues and myself. We are greatly honored and privileged to have you all here for the workshop.
As you are all aware, Asia and the Pacific region has made great socio-economic progress in the past decades and emerged as a leader in many fields. There has been a manifold increase in per capita income as well as food production. As an effective participant in the globalization process, the region is undergoing transformation and bringing about changes to different aspects of the lives of its inhabitants.
China and India are not only the largest countries in the world in terms of population, but also experienced the most rapid economic growth.. They are on the way to overtake several large economies in terms of size of the gross national product. Their growth has profound implications for the rest of the world and particularly for the economies in this region. Likewise, there are several other countries in the region that have made unprecedented transformations from agrarian to industrial economies. The relative share of agriculture has declined over time while those of the manufacturing and service sectors continue to grow year after year. These developments have prompted some to question the importance of the agriculture sector as a source of growth, poverty alleviation and food security in the future.
You are aware that the FAO Regional Office for Asia and Pacific and FAO Technical Cooperation Department's Policy Assistance and Resource Mobilization Division analysed the driving forces of this rapid economic growth and their implications to food security in a diagnostic study entitled Rapid growth of selected Asian economies – Lessons and implications for agriculture and food security. Published last year in three volumes, it covers the experience of China, India, Republic of Korea, Thailand and Viet Nam. The study shows that enabling policy and economic environments were the main engines of progress and that agriculture played the crucial role in the initial stages of development and continues to be important as the major sector in the transformation of rural economies.
The FAO study highlighted policy challenges facing the agriculture sector from rapid globalization and urbanization, with consequent changes in diets and lifestyles. Emerging food supply systems, along with migration out of rural areas, are leading to a structural transformation of farming systems. Continued population growth and associated changes are placing unprecedented pressure on environmental resources at local and global levels. Moreover, the region is still home to 621 million poor people – or two-thirds of the world's total – who earn less than US$1 a day. Likewise, the latest figures indicate that in 2001-03, 524 million people, or 64 percent of the developing world's hungry lived among us.
The total number of food insecure declined by only 45 million or 8 percent in the 11 years from 1990-92. Moreover, even this paltry gain at the regional level was achieved due to substantial progress in a few countries, while the situation in many countries either stagnated or worsened. At this rate, the World Food Summit goal of halving the number of hungry by 2015 is clearly unattainable. It is really a matter of grave concern that rapid growth has not been able to address the hunger issue significantly. The intellectual challenge before us is therefore to critically think how the agriculture sector can contribute more effectively to the eradication of hunger and poverty in the context of globalization.
As mentioned in the document circulated to you earlier today, this workshop is being organized as a forum of selected policy-level stakeholders as a follow-up to the previous initiatives that analyze the implications of policies in view of changing global conditions on agriculture, the rural sector and food security, and to discuss country and regional perspectives on the emerging implications and policy lessons. In this context, the specific objectives of this workshop are: (1) to review lessons from the emerging agricultural and rural development paradigms of successful Asian economies; (2) to identify key policy issues, constraints and potentials for the agricultural and rural development faced by the region; (3) to explore key strategies to address fundamental policy issues and modalities by which transition economies and developing countries can adopt them; and (4) to enhance capacity building with policy tools developed under the FAO project "Support to the Policy Assistance Branch for Asia and the Pacific Region", funded by Japan.
I am delighted that a distinguished group of senior government officials and policy professionals from universities and policy institutes from around the region have come together to this workshop to discuss the Asian economic renaissance and its challenges and consequences on agriculture, food security and poverty. This is a continuation of FAO-RAP's initiatives to build a network of agricultural policy professionals to share experiences and exchange perspectives on the emerging scenarios for the agriculture sector and how it adjusts to address new challenges. In doing so, I would personally encourage you to pay special attention to the issues emerging from FAO's diagnostic study covering the experience of five countries, in particular those related to inter-sectoral inequality, resource degradation and deterioration of environmental quality.
Another important issue highlighted in the FAO study concerns the challenge to enhance competitiveness in the wake of globalization requiring improvements at different levels of the production and distribution chain supported by conducing policies and public goods. How to organize these; how to deal with risks and vulnerability to disasters and price fluctuations; and in the context of increasing commercialization, how to ensure biosecurity and how to safeguard the interests of small farms and farmers are other issues that policy-makers in the region have to deal with.
I believe there will be many more country-specific policy issues that will be presented at the workshop and the deliberations to follow. I am confident that the synthesization of your deliberations will provide the required insight into the issues and how to address them and provide intellectual inputs to help shape and focus FAO country policy work in the region in the coming years. I look forward to your contribution to that objective of the workshop.
Another important part of the workshop concerns the demonstration of policy tools developed by FAO under the Japanese funded project in support of policy assistance in the region. I hope that you will benefit from the workshop session in familiarizing yourselves with the tools and possibly adapt them to analyze policy issues facing the food and agriculture sector in your country.
Finally, I would like to extend FAO's appreciation to SEARCA for its continued collaboration and partnership in FAO-RAP's policy work.
I welcome you all once again, and wish you success in your endeavours and a pleasant stay in Chiangmai.