Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Hiroyuki Konuma

FAO Regional Representative for Asia-Pacific

WELCOME SPEECH

by

He Changchui
Assistant Director-General and
Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific

Delivered at the

 Annual Review Meeting of FAO/Government of Japan Cooperative Programme

 Bangkok, Thailand 19-20 May 2009




Mr Hiromori Kuroki and other distinguished members of the Japanese delegation,
Mr Richard China and colleagues from TCA
Colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,


A pleasant good morning to all of you!

I warmly welcome you all to this Annual Review Meeting of FAO/Government of Japan Cooperative Programme. I am my colleagues in this Regional Office are very pleased and honoured to organize this important annual event.

With rapid economic growth and progress in agriculture, the Asia-Pacific Region significantly reduced poverty and hunger in the last three decades. Between 1990 and 2004, more than 350 million people moved out of extreme poverty and the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day in the region fell from 31 to 17 percent. During the same period, the absolute number of poor people fell from 1,009 million to 641 million. On the hunger side, the proportion of undernourished declined from 20 percent in 1990-02 to 16 percent in 2003-2005 and the number of hungry fell from 582 million to 542 million. Despite these progresses, this region has the largest number of the poor and hungry in the world: 64 percent of the world’s undernourished live in this region. Despite falls in poverty, progress has been unevenly distributed and some countries have experienced sharp increases in inequality. As there is scant progress in reducing the absolute number of hungry in the region from the baseline period, meeting the World Food Summit target of halving the number of hungry by 2015 appears unachievable now.

The global food crisis in 2007 and 2008, triggered by the unprecedented soaring food prices in the last three decades, pushed an additional 41 million people below the hunger threshold in the Asia-Pacific region in 2007 and more were added in 2008. Cereal prices have fallen, but remain significantly high compared to the prices that prevailed when the food crisis began. As you know, to address this new threat to food security, FAO launched the Initiative on Soaring Food Prices (ISFP) in December 2007 and provided short-term assistance of agricultural inputs to vulnerable farmers and helped mobilize donor resources for medium to longer-term interventions to boost food production in the needy Member Countries. Altogether 18 countries – 11 from Asia and 7 from the Pacific sub-region benefited from ISFP.

The current global economic crisis has emerged as yet another challenge to the agriculture sector and food security. According to the Asian Development Bank, the average economic growth in Asia in 2009 will be about half of that in 2008. This is adversely affecting the demand for agricultural products and household income from off-farm employment, remittances and tourism. Investment in agriculture is also likely to be affected by the reduced flow of foreign direct investment and official development assistance. In this situation, it is commendable that in several Asian countries the stimulus packages adopted by the government have provisioned significant resources to infrastructure and employment creation projects. Likewise, it is encouraging that the April G8 Agriculture Minister’s meeting in Italy called to place agriculture and food security at the core of the international agenda. In particular, its call for increased public and private investment in agriculture is of great importance in improving the living standards of the poor and vulnerable populations who depends on agriculture. We hope that this statement will be followed by concrete actions.

FAO regional Office for Asia and the Pacific has been providing assistance to Member Countries in the region to meet the emerging challenges. Japan, being the largest donor for trust fund programme in this region, has consistently contributed to our efforts in agriculture, forestry, nutrition, the Special Programme for Food Security, post-tsunami rehabilitation and avian influenza. I take this opportunity to express FAO’s profound appreciation of the Government of Japan for its generous support and continued trust in us. We will certainly count on the support and assistance of the Government of Japan in FAO’s future work programmes on emerging issues related to agriculture, poverty and food security.

In addition to the review of the ongoing regional projects, we have identified eight new priority project proposals for your consideration. The projects have emerged from our internal deliberations and cover a number of areas including capacity building, poverty alleviation, natural resources management, community participation and employment generation. They also represent our belief that we need to work simultaneously at local, national, sub-regional and regional levels. Some of the interventions need to be multi-disciplinary in nature as the issues cut across disciplines. We are confident that the Government of Japan with its long-standing commitment to help the farmers in this region will find them worthy of its funding support.

I thank you for your kind attention and wish you for successful deliberations and an enjoyable stay in Bangkok.