His Excellency Lieutenant-General Myint Aung, Minister for Agriculture and Irrigation of the Union of Myanmar
May I extend, on behalf of the Delegation of Myanmar and on my own behalf, warm congratulations to you on your assumption of the Chairmanship of this historic summit. The professional skills and experience that you bring to this assembly assure us of a successful session.
As of last year, the FAO attained 50 years of age. The Organization has served as the vanguard for the sufficiency of food for all mankind for half a century. Approaching the twenty-first century, however, the world still faces the menace of hunger, a crucial challenge to the most basic human right. Over the past 50 years, increase in the world's agricultural production kept equal pace with the population growth and at times outpaced it. Yet, FAO has assessed that about 800 million people still face chronic undernutrition. Again, by the year 2030, the world will have to feed three billion additional people, and require a 75 percent increase in food supplies while maintaining the current level of food availability.
We are all assembled here today to address the current crisis and the challenges of the future. Concerted efforts are required to forge global policies for the rapid and sustainable production of food without endangering the environment on which all of us depend. More importantly, we need to transform our policy commitments into action to achieve freedom from hunger on this planet.
Allow me to outline in brief the situation related to agriculture and irrigation development in my country. Our main economy objective has been to generate all-round growth of other sectors of the economy with agricultural sector development as the base. And in the process of transformation from a centrally planned to a market-oriented economic system, the agriculture sector from the very initial stage had been liberalized with a view to promote higher growth rates of the economy. And Myanmar has made headway in terms of ensuring a relatively high and stable growth in the agriculture sector. I am pleased to inform you that production of rice, our main staple food, and other major crops of importance to human nutrition such as oilseed, pulses and other food crops under multiple and mixed-cropping systems, are progressing substantively.
In Myanmar, the land-man ratio is still very favourable and therefore land ownership is still not a critical issue. But Myanmar's agriculture is still basically a rainfed agricultural system and irrigation development remains a principal requisite. In recognition of its importance for agricultural development, the name of the Ministry of Agriculture was assigned as Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation in August of this year to ensure speedier and efficient irrigation support. A major constraint has been our inability to utilize the rich water resources of the country. To date only around 5 percent of the country's estimated total water resources of 870 million acre/feet has been exploited. The State Law and Order Restoration Council, since the assumption of the responsibility of the State in 1988, has solely with its own financial resources, invested over 11 billion kyats for the implementation of 72 irrigation projects within a short space of time. This has resulted in the increment of the irrigation area from 12.6 percent of the total sown area in 1988 to 21 percent in 1996. Similarly, the cropping intensity increased from around 120 percent to 143 percent within the same period.
The double cropping area under paddy, the "National Crop" of Myanmar, has significantly increased, contributing to the overall percentage increase in cropping intensity. Traditionally, only around 12 million acres of paddy were grown annually, mainly under rainfed conditions. However, since 1992, this was augmented with the introduction of summer paddy, and within the past three-year period, the area brought under summer paddy has totalled over 3 million acres and is expected to reach 4 million acres by the end of 1996. The increased cultivation of rice, which covers more than 50 percent of the annual total sown area, clearly illustrates the improvement of the cropping intensity of a single crop within a short time span.
The cultivation practices of farmers, in tandem with increased cropping intensities, has also at the same time improved rapidly, the most obvious being the transformation of traditional to mechanised agriculture. Other major changes that are taking place in parallel are; varietal changes in accordance with the emerging cropping patterns, use of improved seeds and efficient use of agricultural inputs such as fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides.
The shift to a market economy in our country has led not only to increased production in the crop sector, but also has generated increased production as well as private sector investment in both the livestock and fisheries sectors. New financial institutions, both semi-government and private, have emerged to support the agricultural, livestock, fisheries and farm mechanization sectors. The Myanmar Livestock and Fisheries Development Bank and Myanmar Industrial Development Bank remain the two most outstanding contributors to the above sectors among the 20 private financial institutions established to date.
It has been a source of immense self-esteem and gratification that Myanmar's achievement in such developmental efforts were attainable, without aid from international financing agencies. It could serve as a unique experience for all the developing countries. Myanmar is a food-surplus country. Our endeavours to achieve higher economic growth, based on increased productivity in the agricultural sector, to a certain extent, are directly contributing towards world food sufficiency.
Access to adequate food, for a healthy and active life, for all citizens is the basic food policy of the Government of the Union of Myanmar. We firmly believe that this is the most fundamental human right. The quality of the life of the people, both rural and urban, will only be enhanced if the three essential basic needs of food, clothing and shelter are fulfilled. The population residing in rural areas constitutes the majority of the population in our country. They possess potential qualities. They are capable of improving their own lives and also national overall wellbeing if they have access to the right resources. Secure land, water supply, improved technology and assured inputs and credit are major requisites. The challenge today is to ensure that the rural people gain access to these resources. They remain the key to the elimination of hunger and towards ensuring sufficiency of food for all.
In these aspects, it would be appropriate to mention that food security and nutrition measures in our country, are undertaken not only at the national level, but also at the local community and household levels. Other activities and decisions which need action internationally are also further pursued at international fora. Myanmar has been actively participating internationally on many occasions in recent years addressing the need for politically unbiased global commitment and action to intensify agricultural production in order to reverse the world's major problems in food and nutrition. Myanmar fully supports the Quebec Declaration of the Ministerial Meeting on World Food Security convened in Quebec in 1995, and seven priority actions for regional food security endorsed by the Twenty-Third FAO Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific.
Hunger is a consequence pertaining to social and economic conditions. It is also associated with population growth, and health problems emanating from hunger. I would like to reiterate that it is our firm belief that providing local communities with access to resources, motivates them to unleash their production capabilities in achieving food self-reliance. Similarly, in addressing the problems of hunger effectively, it will be necessary to instill suitable conditions for acceptance and participation of local communities on their own will. At the same time, in enacting such measures it wil be appropriate to ensure that they remain within the purview of prevailing political, social and economic conditions. In conclusion, I would like to strongly urge that all the international assistance measures directed towards hunger and malnutrition be based on self-supporting principles. We must strive to ensure that the theme of the 1995 FAO Quebec Symposium, "People at the Heart of Development", should be the basis for all the decisions on hunger issues, which are to be made at the international as well as national levels. I am hopeful that our noble endeavours at this highest gathering, with the theme of Food for All, will help fulfil the hope of the millions who look to us now for the betterment of their lives.