The 24th session of the FAO Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific was held in Yangon, Myanmar, from 20 to 24 April. The confer ence was organized in two parts, including a senior officers meeting from 20 to 22 April, and a ministerial-level meeting on 23 and 24 April.
Representatives from 26 member countries participated in the conference, including 14 ministers. Observers from one member nation from the European region (Italy), one non-member nation (Russian Federation), five international non-governmental organizations and four intergovernmental organizations were in attendance. Representatives of seven other United Nations bodies and specialized agencies participated.
Delegates unanimously elected U Ohn Myint, the Myanmar Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation, as chairperson of the senior officers meeting, and Dr S.B.D.G. Jayawardana, of Sri Lanka, as rapporteur. Maj-Gen Nyunt Tin, the Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation of Myanmar, was elected unanimously as the chairperson of the ministerial meeting. Delegations also elected all the ministers present as vice-chairpersons of the conference, and Abdul Waheed Khan, of Bangladesh, as rapporteur.
In his statement to the conference, Dr Jacques Diouf, the FAO Director-General, addressed the current situation in Asia and the Pacific, expressing concern over the recent strains that the El Niño phenomenon and other natural calamities, and the region's economic downturn, were placing on the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors. Outside the formal sessions of the conference, Dr Diouf met individually with the head of state, ministers and senior officials from Myanmar, and with all heads of delegation, and attended numerous official functions, including a field trip to various agricultural development programmes.
Main topics under discussion at the conference were the follow-up to the World Food Summit, the management and conservation of fisheries in the region, and a report on FAO activities in the region during 1996–97.
The conference, considered highly successful in terms of its organization, outcome and attendance, was unique in several aspects. As part of the process of FAO's decentralization, it was organized and conducted entirely by the regional office. The end-result was satisfactory, and the Myanmar government and concerned RAP staff should, to a large extent, be credited with this success. FAO Headquarters' support and assistance were crucial for the timely translation of in-session documents into Chinese and French, carried out by electronic communication (e-mail) between Yangon and Rome through specially allocated IDD telephone lines. Arrangements for simultaneous interpretation, with a coordinator provided by FAO Rome, were also very satisfactory.
Finally, the office of the FAO Representative in Myanmar coordinated all preparatory activities with the government authorities and provided excellent support to the RAP secretariat, before as well as during the conference.
The 56th executive committee meeting and 22nd session of the Animal Production and Health Commission for Asia and the Pacific (APHCA) were held in Bangkok, Thailand, on 21 June and 22–24 June respectively. Representatives from nine member countries - Australia, India, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand - as well as observers from China and four international groupings attended the session.
The session decided to go ahead with the development of an electronic communication network by placing the APHCA homepage on the Web, publishing Asian Livestock via e-mail (see also the article on Asian Livestock on the Web) and establishing an APHCA server, and to help organize training courses on haemorrhagic septicaemia (in Sri Lanka), disease diagnostic techniques (in Chiang Mai, Thailand) and handling of the electronic network (FAO/ RAP/APHCA).
Linked to the session, two well-attended regional workshops were held at the FAO regional office in Bangkok: one on area-wide integration (AWI) of crop-livestock activities (18–20 June), the other on humane treatment of slaughter animals (25 June) - the first on such a topic.
The proceedings of the AWI workshop were subsequently published (RAP Publication 1998/19). Area-wide integration is a novel approach to integrate specialized livestock and cropping activities in order to achieve better use of land and other resources, environmental protection, food security, poverty alleviation, and public health.
The International Conference on Viet Nam-ASEAN Food Security, held on 3–6 November in Hanoi, drew some three hundred participants from all walks of life in Viet Nam, besides representatives of the nine ASEAN countries and observers from Cambodia. Reflecting the top priority given regionally and nationally to food security, the Prime Minister of Viet Nam, Pham Van Khai, opened the conference, and the keynote address was made by Lê Huy Ngo, the country's Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development. The four-day event, which enjoyed wide media coverage, was organized by the National Food Security Committee of Viet Nam, with a financial contribution from FAO.
The purpose of the gathering was threefold: to present to ASEAN member countries Viet Nam's experience in developing its national food security programme; to exchange information on current efforts to achieve food security among ASEAN countries; and to prepare recommendations for achieving national and regional food security for submission to the ASEAN summit, which was held one month later, also in Hanoi.
Viet Nam's Minister of Agriculture and Rural Developoment on the podium
In the event, the conference adopted a nine-point action plan for national and regional food security.
China now ranks first in world fishery production, with a total of 36 million tons in 1997. And it was in Beijing that the Asia-Pacific Fishery Commission (APFIC) held its 26th session from 24 to 30 September, together with a three-day symposium on fish use in the region followed by a joint working party on fish technology and marketing. The session was attended by representatives of 16 members of the commission and by observers from the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center.
The participants reviewed the activities and achievements of APFIC during its half century of existence (1948–1998) and agreed that, despite constraints, especially of a budgetary nature, the commission should continue into the next millennium assisting its members to move closer toward self-reliance in sustainable fishery development and management.
Not just continue, but intensify its activities: although fishery production in the region, which accounts for 58 percent of world production, is rising, a study conducted by RAP on the sustainable contribution of fisheries to food security in the region points to alarming shortages in the near future.
To answer the need for adequate funding for enhanced assistance, the commission agreed to establish an ad hoc legal and financial working group-along with three ad hoc working groups of experts, in food safety, fish capture data collection, and rural aquaculture. Their task: to formulate guidelines on urgent issues in fisheries and aquaculture in the region. RAP will organize the meetings of these working groups in 1999 in order to report their findings to the commission at its 27th session, due to be held in November 2000 in the Philippines.
On the other hand, in line with a streamlining recommendation of the 1997 review of FAO statutory bodies, the commission abolished its four Working Parties.
Delegates at the 26th session of APFIC
It also endorsed a proposal to merge the Bay of Bengal committee into APFIC in view of the scheduled abolition of the Indian Ocean Fishery Commission, under which the committee has been all along since 1980.
Concluded in 1998, the Asia-Pacific Forestry Sector Outlook Study was a major undertaking mandated by the 16th session of the Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission and carried out under the Forestry Policy and Planning sub-programme.
With contributions and inputs from 27 member countries of the regional commission, numerous international forestry organizations, NGOs and consultants, the study reviews in a comprehensive and balanced manner and from a regional perspective the outlook and policy implications of forestry in Asia and the Pacific up to the year 2010. It is an indispensable document for whoever is even remotely interested in forestry and world trends.
Cover page of the outlook study
Nearly fifty forestry-sector working papers (including thematic surveys, forecasts and in-depth country studies) resulted in the publication of the main Outlook Study report (242 pages) and of a stand-alone executive summary of 36 pages. The results of the study were presented at a major international conference in Japan and specific follow-up studies are under consideration.
Held in Hobart, Australia, on 2–6 November, the 17th session of the Asia and Pacific Commission on Agricultural Statistics focussed on food insecurity and vulnerability information and mapping systems, as well as on requirements for agricultural statistics in the next millennium, and on the need to balance censuses and surveys in agriculture.
17th session of the APC
The session was attended by 56 delegates and observers from 21 countries and five international organizations. The Australian Bureau of Statistics hosted the meeting. The commission recommended that FAO include more forecast data on its Web site and that member countries co-operate with FAO in linking their respective forecast Web pages to facilitate access to existing information on future production.
The 16th edition of the RAP annual publication Selected indicators on food and agriculture was released on the occasion of the 1998 World Food Day celebrations on 16 October. The brochure presents essential data and indicators on food and agriculture, including fisheries, forestry and nutrition, as well as information on land use, agricultural population and economic performance of the agricultural sector in each country of the region.
In order to disseminate essential information on the role of women in agricultural production, ecological resource management, rural economies and thus household food security, the FAO regional office launched in October a series of attractively produced fact sheets, covering ten countries of Asia: Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Cambodia, India, Lao PDR, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Viet Nam.
Each A4-sized double sheet, headed by a list of up to a dozen key facts and ended by a short list of essential references for further reading or research, provides a précis of the condition of rural women in a given country.
The general profile section focuses on population trends, education and labour. Then comes a review of women's roles in the various agricultural sectors (crop production, forestry, fisheries, livestock), their relationship to the environment, off-farm activities, etc., with frequent reference to case studies and other field research findings.
Finally, a dual focus, on policy and planning and on programmes, provides recommendations to policy-makers and planners in each country, making these fact sheets basic reference works offering not merely facts but food for thought as well. Additional country fact sheets are under preparation.
Ten fact sheets on rural women
In February 1998, the 17th session of the Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission, held in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, formally adopted a Code of Practice for Forest Harvesting in Asia-Pacific, as mandated by the previous session. More than 15 major timber-producing countries of the region provided contributions and inputs to the session, as did numerous international forestry organizations and NGOs.
The Code, which offers a framework to guide member countries in environmentally sound forest harvesting, aims to promote sound and sustainable forest harvesting practices for the benefit of the environment and the welfare of local people. While affirming the resolve of Asia-Pacific countries to undertake or pursue sustainable forest management, it provides an interim code for countries currently developing their own national codes of practice for forest harvesting. Such codes have been established or are under way in at least nine countries of the region.
The regional code was developed largely by member countries themselves, with the FAO regional office providing co-ordination and support. Australia, Japan, New Zealand and the United States of America provided technical and financial support.
The year 1998 has seen the on-going dissemination of Gone Astray, The Care and Management of the Asian Elephant in Domesticity, by Richard C. Lair. First published in October 1997 (RAP Publication 1997/16), this 300-page study, covering all 11 countries within the Asian elephant's range, has generated much interest all over the world and raised FAO's name among the world conservation community. The initial print run of 1,200 copies was exhausted by February 1998, leading to a second printing, of 800 copies.
Cover page of Gone Astray
Given the momentum created by the publication, a proposal for a regional seminar on elephants was drafted. The Smithsonian Institution has agreed to be a co-organiser of such a seminar. FAO Rome provided seed money for the preparation of a resource paper for the seminar, and featured the main findings of Gone Astray on its web site.
In collaboration with the Livestock Section of the FAO regional office, production of a care manual for the domesticated Asian elephant is under consideration, starting with the trial publication of a care manual for the Thai elephant, soon to be completed.
A new livestock homepage was created in RAP in 1998: the APHCA homepage is now accessible at http://members.xoom.com/aphca. It contains regularly updated information and links to several databases on livestock production and health. It also carries Asian Livestock, the formerly monthly technical magazine now revived in electronic form as a quarterly publication, which can be downloaded straight from the site.
The RAP library continues to provide a valuable service to researchers, and receives more than fifty visitors per month. Besides FAO staff members, regular visitors consist of consultants, researchers and students from universities and research institutes.
The RAP library provides Internet access, including search engine facilities, to the visitors. For many visitors this is the first time they have access to the Internet, and in particular to the vast amount of information available on FAO's Web site (http://www.fao.org). Some of the most popular resources are the FAOSTAT statistical databases. FAOSTAT is an on-line, multilingual database containing more than one million time-series records covering international statistics in the following areas: production, trade, food balance sheet, food aid shipments, fertilizers and pesticides, land use and irrigation, forest products, fishery products, population, and agricultural machinery.
The library houses approximately 50 000 monographs, periodicals, journals and project documents, with 40–50 additions each month. The RAP library offers a monthly e-mail notification service of recent additions. To register with the RAP library mailing list, an e-mail to FAO-RAP-Library@fao.org may be sent.
A senior official of the FAO Sub-regional office for the Pacific has called on Ministers of Agriculture from 10 South-West Pacific Island countries to co-operate more closely in efforts to address food security measures in the region. Dr Vili Fuavao, FAO Sub-regional Representative for the Pacific, made the comment at the 3rd meeting of the ministers from FAO member countries in the Tongan capital, Nuku'alofa.
He told the two-day meeting that the Pacific countries need to identify areas and products that will give them a comparative advantage and competitive edge. “The region's average agricultural earning accounts for about 50 percent of the gross national products (of many countries), yet there is still a significant quantity of imported food items,” he said. Dr Fuavao said a recent assessment of the state of agriculture in the region highlighted the need to review agriculture polices to ensure food security and to reflect the new trading environment, with emphasis on capability rather than vulnerability of policy reform.