Your Excellencies, Ministers of Agriculture,
Senior Agriculture and Livestock Officials,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a privilege and honor for me to be here with you today for the opening ceremony of the 27th IDF dairy congress. On behalf of the Director-General of Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, I would like to thank the Government of the People's Republic of China and the International Dairy Federation for co-hosting this very important Congress.
From the outset I want to emphasize that FAO recognizes the importance of the dairy sector, for it not only contributes directly to food security and nutrition, but also to poverty alleviation, which is the first and the foremost important Millennium Development Goal set by the United Nations Millennium Summit in 2000. Millions of smallholder farmers depend on dairying for a modest but regular income. Milk consumption provides an important, valuable and healthy contribution to the family diet. Sales of milk enables farmers to feed their families improve household incomes and invest in education and health care for a sustainable future. Smallholder dairying also generates significant off-farm employment in milk collection, processing and marketing.
The nutritional benefits of milk and dairy products, especially for developing countries, are of growing importance and are now widely recognized. Milk is an excellent food for lactating mothers and infants to ensure healthy growth and development. Improvements in the safety and diversity of dairy products has resulted in an increased use and acceptance of milk – from flavored milks and drinking yoghurts to the booming market for probiotic milk and dairy products.
The demand for milk and dairy products is increasing throughout the Asia-Pacific region and, in particular, in China where it is growing at a phenomenal rate of around 25 percent per year. While this presents a challenge for the market and the processors, it also offers an opportunity for producers. Consumers are demanding more milk and dairy products. Therefore we must provide not only more milk but safe milk and dairy products and diversify and expand the product range to meet the changing appetite and to exploit the market opportunities.
FAO has had a long history of successful involvement in dairy development in the region. One of the most notable cases perhaps was "Operation Flood". Through a substantial programme of monetizing milk powder, India has now grown to be largest liquid milk producer in terms of both cow and buffalo in the world, with a total production of about 92 million tons in 2005. Other countries in the region have also seen the opportunities that are available and are developing their own dairy sectors.
Smallholder milk production is a sustainable rural activity and requires only limited investment for poor families. Increased income can be earned through increasing productivity and by adding value to the milk produced. FAO, working with various partners, promotes the adoption of sustainable, small-scale production and processing through the development of market-oriented skills and transfer of appropriate and practical technologies.
There is no doubt, however, that milk adulteration and product safety remain major concerns and challenges to the industry. FAO's work on improving the safety of milk and dairy products is a never ending task. In close collaboration with industry groups, such as IDF, it strives to improve and develop standards which ensure that the milk and dairy products we consume are safe and wholesome. These standards are developed through the joint FAO/WHO programme – Codex Alimentarius – or the 'food laws'. Codex is the reference point for WTO in cases of dispute and of increasing importance in the light of the global trade in milk and dairy products.
We are pleased that FAO and IDF have a longstanding partnership in organizing international meetings for knowledge dissemination. It is through events such as this congress, and its ten associated conferences, that FAO and IDF hope to promote an effective exchange of knowledge and experience to facilitate the sustainable growth of the dairy sector. We have participants here from a large number of countries, all of whom bring their experiences of their own dairy sectors. We hope that by sharing this knowledge and experience, particularly between developed and developing nations, we will all learn from the examples of good practice and the lessons from the past.
One notable feature is the recent trend towards joint ventures between dairy companies both in this region and globally. This can bring substantial benefits in terms of access to technologies and the expanding area of dairy ingredients which are used across many food industries. We also believe that smallholder dairy farmers can and must be fully involved in, and benefit from, the market opportunities that exist for the development and commercialization of the dairy sector.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Before concluding, I want to call your attention to the desperate fact that out of 843 million undernourished people in the world, the Asia and the Pacific region hosts some 524 million hungry – women, men and in particular children who go to bed every day with hungry stomachs. This is shameful and a totally unacceptable situation in a world of affluence today. I hope that this 27th Congress in Shanghai will provide another important forum for people working directly in the dairy sector, government institutions, academics, NGOs and public and private sectors to work as partners under the International Alliance Against Hunger. Together, we will make a dramatic contribution to the well-being of the people in the world.
I wish all participants a productive meeting and every success in dealing with these important challenges.