It is a great pleasure and honor for me to welcome all of you to the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok for the preparatory meeting of the 3rd Steering Meeting and Workshop of the International Network on Water and Environment in Paddy Fields, which will take place in Kuala Lumpur in September.
The issues addressed by the INWEPF network and the topic of the Kuala Lumpur workshop – Rice Paddy: Now, Tomorrow and the Future – are close to my heart and central to the work of FAO in the region. Indeed, the future of rice is one of the six priority areas of FAO’s Strategic Framework for the Region, Alleviating poverty in rice-based livelihood systems, for which the goal is livelihood systems that deliver sustained income growth and protect natural resources.
Rice-based livelihoods characterize rural Asia and the Pacific. Grown in 26 nations, rice is consumed as a staple food in most of the 43 regional member countries. It is sown over a fifth of the total arable and permanent cropland. The crop also gives part-time work to some 300 million people who make up a sixth of the total agricultural population. Over the millennia, rice afforded sustainable, food-secure and even affluent lives in areas well endowed with land and water. But the present rice landscape is marred by factors and forces associated with food insecurity and environmental degradation.
- declining farm sizes and falling rice prices;
- the vicious cycle of rainfed production: low productivity, natural resource exploitation, and poverty in 40 percent of rice lands;
- a significant proportion of the 503 million hungry people survive within rice-based farming systems;
- climate change with the likelihood of coastal inundation, sea water seepage, erratic monsoonal precipitation, salinization and nutrient depletion as well as other damaging impacts which further threaten the productivity and sustainability of rice lands; and
- the Uruguay Round Agreement and expected further trade liberalization which threaten high-cost producers of rice.
Within this context, a significant number of rice growers face bleak prospects in terms of employment, income generation and sustainability of resource endowments. FAO’s overall objective is thus to alleviate poverty and enhance incomes of farm households whose livelihoods were traditionally based on rice production. Specific objectives of our strategic framework for rice are:
- to attain and maintain comparative advantages of diversified livelihood systems;
- to realize relatively high incomes from productive, resilient and diversified farming systems, non- and off-farm employment, and industrial and service activities; and
- to arrest and reverse natural resource degradation and environmental pollution.
FAO recognizes that rice-based systems also provide ecosystem functions, and promotes their recognition and management at all levels, from the farm, to the irrigation systems and irrigated landscapes, to the river basins and at national policy and strategic levels, including through our participation in the INWEPF network but also in other regional and international fora. Our new programme on Water for Food and Ecosystems is another indication of FAO’s intention to promote harmonious co-management of agriculture and the environment.
It is our view that changes in the rice sector, which are necessary, but also integrated water resources management strategies, should as much as possible take into account and enhance where feasible the ecosystem services provided by rice paddy fields. We accept that in some countries water saving irrigation is the most appropriate option, but we then need to evaluate the impact of large scale conversion from rice paddy to water saving irrigation on ecosystem services, to ensure that it results in net positive gains to society. I am happy to see that the programme prepared for the workshop is meant to address these issues and I trust that the workshop’s outputs will be valuable for FAO and other countries in the region.
FAO has been an active participant and supporter of the INWEPF network since the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan launched this initiative to address the challenges identified at the Ministerial Meeting on Water for Food and Agriculture at the 3rd World Water Forum in Kyoto, which was jointly organized by MAFF and FAO. We were impressed with the outstanding organization of the 2nd Steering Meeting in Seoul by the Korean INWEPF Committee last year. FAO’s active support to our friends of Malaysia for the 3rd Steering Meeting has been made possible by the substantial and fruitful assistance of MAFF of Japan to FAO’s activities through the water management in paddy fields in monsoon region project, which we gratefully acknowledge. We will also be pleased to support the Thailand INWEPF National Committee in the organization of the 4th Steering Meeting.
My other commitments do not allow me to stay with you for the whole meeting. I wish you a productive meeting, and I wish you all success at the 3rd Steering Meeting in Kuala Lumpur, where I will be represented by Mr Facon.