1. The Asia-Pacific Network for Food and Nutrition (ANFN) held its Regional Expert Consultation on Reviewing Implementation of the National Food Based Dietary Guidelines (FBDGs) in Bangkok, Thailand from 20 to 23 November 2001. R.B. Singh, Assistant Director-General and FAO Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific opened the expert consultation. The consultation was attended by 11 participants from 10 Member countries, namely: Bangladesh, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, the Philippines, Thailand, Vanuatu and Viet Nam. Resource persons from the University of California Davis, USA and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), New Caledonia were among other key participants. A complete list of participants is given in Appendix 1 to this report.
2. Biplab K. Nandi, Senior Food and Nutrition Officer, FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok, Thailand and Secretary ANFN likewise extended his warm welcome to all the participants and guests who had been active in the network. He introduced the objectives of the consultation and informed those present of the mandate and composition of the Asia-Pacific Network on Food and Nutrition and the specific objectives of the consultation.
3. The consultation elected Kamala Krishnaswamy from India and Mohammad Ismail Noor from Malaysia, as Chair and Co-Chair respectively; while Elsa M. Bayani from the Philippines, and Emily Kalsakau from Vanuatu were elected as the rapporteurs.
Opening of the consultation
4. The Assistant Director-General and FAO Regional Representative (ADG/RR) for Asia and the Pacific formally opened the consultation and welcomed the participants on behalf of the Director-General of FAO and on his own behalf. He congratulated the elected chairs and expressed deep appreciation to the ANFN Secretariat for a well-thought agenda for the consultation. He underscored the importance of the consultation which was being held in the context of the overall mandate of FAO to promote production, distribution and marketing of safe, wholesome and nutritious foods in order to raise the levels of nutrition and standards of living for people. In this regard, the International Conference on Nutrition (ICN), convened by FAO/WHO in 1992, and World Food Summit (WFS) in 1996 had catalysed the process of identification and adoption of strategies and actions to improve nutritional well being and food consumption throughout the world.
5. Recognizing the problem of food security in a broad-based manner, FAO addresses key issues which closely affect food security of households and populations in general. In doing so, FAO is concerned with production, physical access, nutritional adequacy and even metabolic adequacy. The ADG/RR informed the consultation of the many developments that were taking place particularly of the evolving concept of food security. He emphasized that besides macronutrients, the microelements of the diet such as vitamins and minerals also need to be secured. These are interrelated components all of which impinge on food security and nutritional adequacy for populations.
6. ADG/RR pointed out that the number of hungry had in fact risen over the last 10 years. To meet the pledge made at the WFS, the ranks of the regions hungry must be reduced by at least 15 million people per year instead of the 13 million set at the time of the WFS in 1996.
7. He explained that the FAO document State of food insecurity (SOFI) 2001 highlights who, where and why is food insecure. He mentioned that of the worlds 815 million malnourished people, 777 millions are found in developing countries and 497 million or 65 per cent are located in the Asia-Pacific region. He urged the participants to give serious consideration to this fact so as to understand and appreciate the consequences of hunger.
8. He pointed to the relevance of FBDGs as one of the important tools to combat malnutrition. In particular, he stressed the need to converge efforts on information, education and communication (IEC) strategies. He reiterated that the components of FBDGs could enjoy close interlinkages with information and communication technologies (ICT).
9. Growth in food production in Asian countries over the past two decades has been remarkable and its implications for direct human consumption are expected to have improved in much of Asia and appears to have adequate dietary energy supply (DES). But Asian diets lack food (dietary) diversity, which gives rise to micronutrient malnutrition besides protein energy malnutrition (PEM), which is widespread in Asia and particularly among the vulnerable groups of pregnant women and young children.
10. FBDGs play an important role in recommending appropriate intake of food and also in providing information to the public about the right type and amount of food to eat in order to meet nutrient requirements and about safe ways of food preparation. FBDGs can rightly serve as a strong component of strategies and can become a vital tool in food and nutrition policy development and nutrition education. However, merely having a set of dietary guidelines will not guarantee an effective nutrition policy or that the population will follow the same automatically. Attention would need to be given to communicating FBDGs effectively to the public as well as to the policy makers and health/nutrition practitioners.
11. ADG/RR emphasized the need to adopt a comprehensive strategic approach of augmenting food production, dietary improvement, and promoting community based approaches all of which can match up with the efforts to achieve the goal of reducing the millions of the hungry and malnourished. The challenges in the Asia-Pacific region are high, particularly on how to diversify the food basket.
12. He urged the country representatives and participants to provide guidance to FAO and make recommendations on how to touch the lives of the poor and hungry, promote the pro-active involvement of various actors such as non - governmental organizations (NGOs) and the private sector to bring in their experiences, and share empirical evidence and results of investments in undertaking food based approaches to solve problems of malnutrition. He mentioned that effective management of new crops - such as opaque maize or golden rice - considering their costs, efficiency and acceptability to consumers, were some of the issues to be carefully considered.
13. The full text of the speech is given in Appendix II.