His Excellency Pehin Dato Abdul Rahman Taib, Minister for Industry and Primary Resources of the State of Brunei Darussalam
Let me begin by expressing my highest appreciation to FAO and to the Government of the Republic of Italy for organizing this World Food Summit. I am honoured to have the opportunity to address this distinguished gathering today.
This World Food Summit is timely and serves as a forum for world leaders to address the important issues of food security, particularly, the need for global commitments to place food production as a priority and ensure sufficiency in food supply.
Ensuring food security is always our prime task, especially in the face of a growing population. World population is projected to increase by another 2.6 billion by the year 2025 and will continue to increase thereafter. As such, world food production will have to increase by 75 percent over the next 30 years, in order to ensure adequate food supply. The irony, however, is that the appreciable increases in food production over recent years, as a result of improved post-harvest and food technology and general understanding of the complexity of human nutrition, has not alleviated the problem of 800 million in the world currently suffering from chronic undernourishment and many are on the brink of starvation.
Furthermore, the whole situation is aggravated by civil conflicts, social and economic prejudices, natural disasters and very often poverty. South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, still face acute hunger because they cannot grow, or have access to enough food, to meet their daily requirements. In looking at specific problem areas, I feel that one of the major causes of food insecurity in the developing and least developed countries is the decline in food production and this is attributed to numerous factors which differ from one country to another, owing to differences in physical and social economic disparities.
Among the major constraints are a lack of suitable land, land tenure, water scarcity, access of rural people to the cities, inefficient technology and poor incentives given to agricultural activities. These factors have undermined the capabilities of farmers to produce food. Confronted with these problems, the task of increasing agricultural productivity will not be easy and these countries have to resort to imports or rely on food aid programmes to make up their food deficit. The situation becomes acute if countries involved do not have the necessary means to buy the food required. Invariably, food insecurity and poverty prevail and the people are deprived of access to food. Other impediments, such as food prices, can also upset food supply. The cycle of surpluses and shortages create price instability leading to uncertainties. Fluctuations in exchange rate add an extra dimension of unpredictability, it is in this context that we must look, not only into food production per se, but also examine various ways to facilitate freer flows of commodities including fresh and processed foods.
The World Trade Organization has played an important role in creating a predictable environment for trade in order to promote economic growth and in turn, improve the economic well-being of the people. Given this opportunity, nations can set their long term policies for growth, reduction of poverty and improvement of economic and social well-being. The challenge of providing Food for All is indeed enormous. It calls for the development of long term national policies and for the establishment of effective regional and international mechanisms of cooperation that ensure sustainable food production and food supply.
National policies should place strong emphasis on creating a balanced approach to industrialization and primary production with the objective of achieving economic growth and food security. For example, much of the arable land in many of the largely population countries have been allotted for housing and for industrial uses, hence future increases in agricultural food production will have to come from land already under cultivation. Agricultural production will need to be more intensive, cost-effective and perhaps more selective. This can only come about through agrarian reforms, technology adaptation and technology transfer.
In my country the Government places top priority on food production. Our series of five-year national development plans have given strong emphasis to the utilization of the country's resources to increase domestic food production, revitalize the rural economy and stimulate sustainable industrial development. Our strategy is to mitigate over-dependence on external sources of food supply. I am proud to mention that for the last several years our farmers have been able to produce more and achieve a minimum supply of food for the population.
In the fisheries sector Brunei realizes the importance of marine catches to supply food. Fish and fishery products are a major source of protein. The country is one of the highest per capita consumers of fish in the world and as a result our government has taken steps to ensure a continuing supply both from marine catches and imports. Concurrently, our fisheries department has promoted modern methods, such as aquaculture, to increase the supply of fish to meet domestic requirements. Other activities carried out include protection and conservation of the aquatic environment and protection. Enhancement of natural nursery and breeding grounds, as lucrative industries, should not be pursued at the expense of environmental degradation.
Our other strategy is our distribution policies to ensure the supplies reach even the remote parts of the country. Essential commodities, such as rice and sugar, are under price control regulation to ensure that the entire population has access to them for the same quality and acceptable prices. Rice is one of the most important stable food crops in the world. Much of Asia depends on this commodity.
In Brunei we place emphasis on ensuring the continuity of supply through bilateral arrangements and make special efforts to grow the crop. More importantly, through Asean, our country has entered into a regional arrangement to ensure the supply of rice in the event of a shortfall.
This Summit provides the best opportunity for us to initiate regional and international cooperation towards food security. The role of regional organizations and that of the United Nations under its existing agencies, such as FAO, are crucial in developing and implementing a mechanism that ensures a continuous supply of food for all. Within Asean, our governments have established the Asean food security reserve board which bears the responsibility for monitoring and reviewing the rice commodity in the world market and at the same time, administering the Asean seven emergency rice reserve. Every Asean member country has the responsibility to put aside an emergency rice reserve as a contingency, collectively the emergency rice reserve now stands as 67 thousand metric tons and can meet an unforeseen shortage of rice in any Asean member country.
Within the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, the common issues of food and population are also being actively addressed. I believe that the issue of food reserves and problems related to food security should also be addressed adequately at a global level.
The elements of price stabilization, research and development and knowledge transfer and technical cooperation should form the main basis for international cooperation and global efforts. Developed nations can offer and should put more efforts to extend food production technology to the needy nations. I am fully convinced that this auspicious Summit will inspire and encourage all nations in the world to foster closer cooperation to allocate more generous resources to expand and sustain food production.
I am sure FAO, which has provided more than two decades of leadership in addressing world problems of food security is well suited to continue and coordinate programmes to bring an end to global hunger and malnutrition. Given our determination, national, regional and global world food security can be a reality. But most of all, I feel, full commitments by individuals and governments are central to eventual realization of this noble objective.
We are very confident that FAO has the capability to pool the resources together and implement food security systems worldwide. Let us reaffirm our commitments towards the eradication of hunger and malnutrition, to free individuals from the desperate struggle to feed themselves in this global environment of interdependency and shared interest in peace and security as we enter into the next millennium.