Colleagues from FAO,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is indeed a pleasure for me to address this important Regional Expert Consultation of the Asia-Pacific Network for Food and Nutrition.
Agriculture-based development strategies continue to be the key to poverty reduction and nutrition improvement of rural-based economies in the developing world. Nutrition is an important indicator of poverty, and food and nutrition interventions remain the interface between agriculture and health. The UN Millennium Declaration of 2000 and its MDGs have included nutrition and health as one of the cornerstones of development. The World Food Summit (WFS) and WFS: 5yl and the International Alliance Against Hunger (IAAH) brought attention to the world’s hungry and drew commitments from governments to address problems of food security and nutrition. The major FAO linked initiatives, namely the International Conference on Nutrition (ICN) and the World Declaration of the Plan of Action for Nutrition including combating Hidden Hunger, also catalyzed commitments of the world’s nations to develop National Plans of Action for Nutrition (NPANs). Rightly, only greater investment in nutrition-linked agriculture and development strategies can lead to improved health and, in particular, have beneficial effects on the next generation.
FAO views the problem of food security and nutrition in a holistic way, promoting the use of integrated food-based strategies. This initiative is being undertaken as part of FAO’s catalytic role in assisting nations, communities and households in achieving their “overall right to food”. Increasing dietary diversification is the most important factor in providing a wide range of nutrients. To achieve this in a development context requires an adequate supply of, access to and consumption of a variety of foods. FAO is dedicated to promoting agriculture, nutrition, forestry, fisheries and rural development, and to facilitating achievement of the World Food Summit goal of eradicating hunger. The Organization is a world centre of food and agricultural information and knowledge, and a forum for policy dialogue and forging agreements among nations. Its work in such areas as standard setting and provision of global public goods both underpins and complements the activities that are directly targeted at helping achieve the Millennium Development Goals, through policy advice and technical assistance.
The main responsibility for poverty and hunger reduction lies with governments. Governments need to acknowledge that the micronutrient deficiency problem exists and they should take the lead in sensitizing the public about the magnitude of the problem, its causes and effects, and possible strategies to combat it. Food insecurity and malnutrition result in serious public health problems and loss of human potential in developing countries, including Asia. The major problems faced by the poor include low productivity, poor health and malnutrition, illness, poor quality of life and related disabilities. Adopting a nutrition orientation to food production offers greater possibilities for long-term sustainability of food resources in communities. Alongside this, multi-sectoral approaches with greater government support for district and community leadership are also critical.
Agriculture policies which continue to emphasize agricultural production without taking into consideration their nutritional implications need to be revisited. This is particularly important in the context of supplying micronutrients to people through production of a sufficient quantity of fruits and vegetables. There is, therefore, a need to reorient the thrust away from production of grains alone. Similarly, strengthened integration of plant and animal production at the farm level is called for. Intensifying the production of small livestock and fish is important for improving the micronutrient contribution of diets of rural communities in developing countries. Efforts may also need to be directed toward harnessing the potential of underexploited traditional indigenous plants which have proved to be a rich source of micronutrients.
A well developed policy environment would need to facilitate and support small-scale and semi-commercial farming systems that maximize outputs of micronutrient-rich foods. Integrated production systems involve the horizontal and vertical integration of crops, livestock, trees and aquaculture. Nutrition considerations need to be seriously integrated into agriculture, livestock, aquaculture and related programmes so that the nutrition dimension can be monitored and desired outcomes achieved. Public expenditures must be guided by the criteria of economy, efficiency and effectiveness. These are particularly relevant in the case of agriculture-linked programmes aimed at improving the nutritional status of people since the expenditures are large and the goals are specific.
The concept of Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) has evolved in recent years in the context of a rapidly changing and globalized food economy and as a result of the concerns and commitments of a wide range of stakeholders about food production and security, food safety and quality, and the environmental sustainability of agriculture. GAP applies recommendations and available knowledge to addressing environmental, economic and social sustainability for on-farm production and post-production processes resulting in safe and healthy food and non-food agricultural products.
A critical challenge is to ensure that the expanding use of GAP will take into account the interest of smaller-scale producers in developing countries both for the safety, economy and sustainability of domestic production and livelihoods security. A broadly accepted approach using GAP principles, generic indicators and practices will help guide debate on national policies and actions and on the preparation of strategies to ensure that all stakeholders participate in and benefit from the application of GAP in the food chain.
There is a need to accelerate crop diversification programmes in addition to horticulture, small livestock and fisheries production, ensure working of actionable broadened food policy towards achievement of balanced production, availability and utilization of a range of diverse foods, augment production of pulses and vegetables and fruits, expand agro-based activities and programmes at household and commercial levels, promote nutrition education and implementation of food and nutrition policy tools such as the food-based dietary guidelines (FBDGs), address food distribution issues at the household level (with reference to intrahousehold issues), put in place food insecurity and vulnerability mapping systems and promote urban agriculture activities.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
You are perhaps aware that FAO is undergoing reform and one of the important changes in the Organization has been the movement of the “Food and Nutrition Division” from the “Economic and Social Department” to the “Agriculture Department” with its new name of “Nutrition and Consumer Protection Division”. This allows the Division to supplement the activities of the Agriculture Department in a more comprehensive manner with the overall objective of addressing nutrition issues throughout the food chain.
The Asia-Pacific Network for Food and Nutrition (ANFN) provides a coordinating framework for expert consultations, publications, reports, databases and information systems on agriculture-linked integrated nutrition activities within the Asia-Pacific region through FAO and its collaborating institutions. This consultation is expected to highlight the role of the agriculture sector in promoting food and nutrition activities within countries. Needless to say, the topic is of utmost importance in the present day context when the problems of both undernutrition and overnutrition coexist in many developing countries in the region. I am indeed pleased to note that the experts from eight countries gathered at this consultation will discuss the strategies and actions for addressing the issues of diet-related chronic diseases in which the agriculture sector plays a vital role. I congratulate the ANFN Secretariat for having selected such a timely topic.
We are also pleased to have with us here today the expertise of other international agencies. Together they will deliberate on and appreciate the inter-relationship of food production and nutritional well-being, share experiences and lessons on food production and possible nutritional implications on overall national productivity, and provide practical recommendations for strengthening strategic actions for improved food production and effective nutrition interventions.
I wish the consultation every success and FAO looks forward to its fruitful deliberations.
I wish you a pleasant stay in Bangkok and I thank you for your kind attention.