By Mr He Changchui
Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific
Ladies and gentlemen,
Good morning to all of you.
First of all, allow me on behalf of Jacques Diouf, Director-General of FAO and on my own behalf, to extend a warm welcome to you all in Thailand. My colleagues and I are greatly honoured and privileged to have you all here.
The 1996 World Food Summit (WFS) and the 2002 WFS affirmed that reducing hunger must be a central goal of the international development agenda. The United Nations Millennium Declaration adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2000 reflected the WFS target by making hunger and extreme poverty reduction a primary development goal. This global commitment has been reaffirmed in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and within these, MDG-1, calling for eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, is on the top of the development agenda.
On the occasion of your workshop and considering the presence of a large group of eminent policy institutes, I share with you my great hope in the growing momentum behind the MDGs and the repeated (re-) confirmations of the political commitment toward the reduction of hunger at various high-level fora. I am also encouraged by the growing expressions by many segments of civil society for the realization of the right to food and a more harmonized world. However, one notes with concern the lack of progress made in the region in reversing the growing disparity between rich and poor. At the start of a new millennium, when many countries including those in Asia were targeted by terrorist attacks, we are reminded of the urgency of being vigilant against the neglect of the plight of hundreds of destitute people. Indeed, the indifference towards the widening gap between the better-off minority and the economically deprived majority is the biggest development challenge of our times - one that could have potentially disastrous consequences for the region if le. unattended.
On the occasion of the World Food Day 2003, the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific organized a Round Table for a Regional Alliance against Hunger (RAAH). Noting the initiative as timely and strategic, round table participants emphasized that hunger eradication requires policy reforms to empower the poor and to commit resources for agriculture and rural development. The RAAH Round Table recognized that governments have a major responsibility to improve the policy framework for agricultural and rural development and to make the required investments in rural infrastructure and agricultural research. Emphasizing the private sector role and agribusiness, inter alia, in developing and disseminating improved technology and ensuring remunerative farm prices, the RAAH Round Table recommended that FAO assign priority to providing countries with dynamic and mutually reinforcing framework of policies and actions in support of agriculture drawing from the experiences which have been successfully implemented by countries in the Asia-Pacific region.
In accord with the Rome and New York Declarations made by leaders of more than 170 countries around the globe and, more specifically, the roles and responsibilities delegated to FAO in this regard, strengthening food security through sustainable agriculture and rural development is the main mission of FAO. As experience has amply shown in several Asian countries - from Japan and Republic of Korea to China, India and Viet Nam - agricultural growth is a forerunner to the overall development of the nation.
Good performance of the agriculture sector played an important role in the past economic growth of Asia. Agricultural production in this region grew at rates faster than the world average. Indices of food, crop, cereal and livestock production increased more rapidly than the world average. During the 1980s and 1990s, the region achieved exponential agricultural growth rates of nearly 4 percent and above, and the growth during the last four decades averaged 3.49 percent. The Green Revolution process triggered in the mid-1960s was the engine of this transformation. Food production grew at a much faster rate of 3.57 percent than the growth of population (1.91 percent) causing a gradual increase in per capita availability of food and contributing to significant reduction in undernourishment in the region. Despite the addition of 1.4 billion people to the regions population, average per capita food availability has increased from about 2 000 kcal/person/day in 1965-66 to over 2 600 kcal/person/day in 1999-2000. In the 1990s, the proportion of the undernourished population in the region declined from 20 to 16 percent.
Notwithstanding these achievements, the present incidence of hunger means that every sixth person in the region is still undernourished. Furthermore, the region accounts for nearly two-thirds of the undernourished population in the developing world. The performance varies considerably among countries and sub regions. East and Southeast Asia have done better than South Asia. The gap between high achieving and underperforming countries is also very wide. This may be attributed to the differences in capacities as well as the approaches, policies and programmes adopted.
The population of the developing Asia-Pacific countries is projected to increase from 3.2 billion in 1997-99 to 3.9 billion in 2015 and 4.4 billion in 2030. There is an increasing trend of urbanization of the population and the pattern of food demand is changing rapidly with rising incomes. However, the relentless pursuit of intensification of agriculture, livestock and fishery to increase food production has caused adverse environmental effects. The recent outbreak of Avian flu has reinforced the need that sustainable agriculture, sound farming systems and food safety aspects be combined with the goal of economic efficiency in organizing commercial food production and processing systems. The regions agriculture sector is therefore faced with the multiple objectives of sustainable production growth and equitable access of food of the growing and urbanizing masses.
The FAO regional office in Bangkok initiated the establishment of a regional network of national and regional agricultural policy research centres to serve as a catalyst to strengthen policy analysis and facilitate the exchange of information and practical experiences in agricultural and rural development. Its initial focus was to understand the role and contribution of policies, markets and institutions in the dynamic transformation of agriculture in Asia and the Pacific in the 1980s and 1990s. The goal was to draw lessons and regional perspectives from the varied experiences in the region with regard to macroeconomic policy, structural adjustment, institutional reform and external shock.
FAO highly values the collaboration with policy institutes in the region. The depth and breadth of your knowledge of the countries you serve is an invaluable asset that we can draw on in policy work to our mutual advantage. Workshops with policy institutes are a great opportunity for sharing of experiences and perspectives and mutual learning. They are also distinct opportunities to know the emerging issues and priorities in different countries of the region.
The present workshop is expected to provide intellectual inputs to help shape and focus FAO country policy work in the region in coming years as well as lead to a common policy research agenda among the institutes and centres, particularly with the Southeast Asia Research Center for Agriculture (SEARCA) and those comprising the Asia-Pacific Agricultural Policy Forum, with respect to enabling policies and programmes for sustained agricultural and rural development. It also provides a forum to discuss and prepare a regional proposal for FAOs collaboration with these institutes on identified priority issues. This joint work will assist FAO in enhancing the provision of effective policy assistance to member countries through strengthened collaboration and exchange of information between and among institutes from high, middle and low income countries.
In concluding, I would like to again emphasize that the topics you will be discussing today and tomorrow are critically important to sustainable agriculture, rural development and food security in the region. I am confident your deliberation will provide the required insight into the issues and how to address them.
I welcome you all once again, wishing you success in your endeavours and a pleasant stay in Cha-am.
By Mr Mafa E. Chipeta
Director, FAO Policy Assistance Division
I am honoured to have the chance to say a few words at the opening of this meeting, which offers an opportunity to listen to Asias experts regarding priority topics in agricultural policy.
But let me start by recognizing the presence of Mr He Changchui who, as Regional Representative, is the personification of FAO in the Asia-Pacific region; of Mr Balisacan, Director of SEARCA, our partner in organizing this workshop; and of His Excellency Shin Sakurai of Japan who as a parliamentarian, represents a key and influential constituency that we need to have on our side. I also recognize the presence of my FAO colleagues from Policy Assistance Groups in Accra, Barbados, Budapest, Cairo, Rome, Samoa and Tunis; like them, I came to listen, with a view to learning for application in other regions.
Allow me to make some brief remarks on features of Asia that we should bear in mind as we discuss sectoral policies:
In terms of economic output, current world shares are about 30:30:25:5 for the Americas, Europe, Asia-Pacific and Africa, respectively. Asia-Pacific is by far the most dynamic region and we can expect its share to reach a third by another decade or so and about half by mid-century, matching the regions share of world population. This large share makes it essential that we pay great attention to Asia-Pacific policy choices and developments.
Within Asia-Pacific is great diversity with the poorest to the richest countries coexisting. FAO needs to have policy engagement with all these levels of development. FAO also needs to remember that despite economic dynamism, Asia still has the worlds largest number of the poor and malnourished in absolute magnitude.
The attributes of the region both for its large and small or rich and poor countries calls for a policy agenda tailored to its specificities but recognizing the regions connectedness to the world economy.
FAOs role in all this is to be supportive and catalytic of national efforts. The regions experts in the countries and regional institutions should take the lead, but FAO itself should adopt a proactive stance. FAO therefore welcomes the kind of cooperation made evident through this workshop.
Finally, policy work is fine and good policy work is essential. But it must be heard to be of value. It is of little use to do quality policy analysis if its results do not reach or help influence audiences such as the parliamentary class represented here by H.E. Shin Sakurai.
With these few remarks, I wish the workshop success and look forward to learning from it.
By Dr Arsenio M. Balisacan
Director, SEAMEO SEARCA
Mr He Changchui, Assistant Director-General of FAO-RAP;
Mr Mafa Chipeta, Director of TAC, FAO Rome;
H.E. Shin Sakurai, MP and Current Chair of the Food Security Committee,
Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development;
Dr Arief Sadiman, Director of the SEAMEO Secretariat;
Ladies and gentlemen;
It is my honour and privilege to welcome such a distinguished group of professionals who are bonded by one common goal - the eradication of poverty and food insecurity.
We are very glad and thankful that in the midst of your various commitments, you have come here, some traveling halfway around the world, to share with us your thoughts and experiences, and be one with us in identifying policy instruments and modalities that can be used by the various Asian governments to address the twin problems of poverty and hunger in their respective countries and in the Asian region as a whole.
Let me take this opportunity to also thank your organizations for their support to this endeavor.
While it was not planned to be so, this workshop comes at an opportune time for us because several countries in Asia will be having national elections during the year.
Whether we will see new or old faces in government (if the Madrid elections are any indication, we might be seeing "new" faces), I believe there is a general sense of anticipation to start things anew after elections.
Nevertheless, I see these elections as an opportunity because government officials, whether old or new, will want to offer their constituents something new as they start their new terms. And some of them will come to us for help, or will be open to our offers of help.
I believe we should grab the opportunity and use it to explicate that need for policy reforms for agricultural and rural development and to promote and advocate the adoption of the recommendations coming out from this workshop. Thats a tall order for all of us here, but one that we can carry out.
I would like to share with you that this workshop is one of the initial avenues by which my organization, SEARCA, is getting into the mainstream work of poverty alleviation. SEARCA is by and large a human resource development organization. It has been working for agricultural and rural development in general in the past 37 years of its existence.
However, starting with its Eighth Five-Year Plan, whose implementation formally begins this July, SEARCA boldly and clearly indicates poverty reduction and food security as the goals of its programmes in graduate scholarship and short-term training, research and development and knowledge management. Rural growth promotion and natural resource management are the channels by which it will contribute to the attainment of these goals.
We are excited and yet at the same time challenged by the directions we have taken and are ever so hopeful and serious in making a significant contribution toward our goals.
As I will be delivering the keynote paper in a few moments, let me conclude this welcome remarks by thanking FAO-RAPP for the opportunity to be its partner in this workshop, the output of which will hopefully be pivotal in our quest for eradicating extreme poverty and hunger.
Thank you and I wish us all success.
By H.E. Shin Sakurai, MP
Current Chair of the Food Security Committee, Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development (AFPPD)
Good morning ladies and gentlemen. This is a great honour for me as the chair of the standing committee on Food Security of Asian Forum of Parliamentarian on Population and Development (AFPPD). Established in 1982, AFPPD is the parliamentarians forum in Asia and the Pacific region that aims to contribute to peace in the world through the solution of population and development issues.
We have been working to mobilize parliamentarians on population and development not only in Asia but in the whole world as well. The parliamentarians are natural catalysts between people and the governing body. We believe that solving the population issues is essential for achieving sustainable development. Accordingly, we have been taking initiative through parliamentarians activities on population and development in Asia and across the world.
Spirits of our activities are summarized by the saying "No child should not be born into the world just to starve and die." This is the message of the late Mr Takashi Sato, the founder and first chairman of AFPPD.
At present, advances including the WTO system have been driving trade liberalization without exception. This driving force is economic profit. According to the comparative advantage principle, trade makes economical profit not only for developed countries but for developing countries as well.
Is this truly applicable? It is clear that there are still many big issues in the area of food security. Even the FAO World Food Summit in 1996 clearly states that food is a basic human right. Food is essential for human survival and vital for our very existence; thus, food should not be viewed merely as a commercial product.
The approach taken by FAO and UNFPA should be consistent with the World Trade Organization (WTO) and free trade agreements (FTA) otherwise international conferences such as this would be a futile exercise. I would like you to read The Hague Declaration of International Forum of Parliamentarians on Implementation of ICPD PoA and the United Nations General Assembly Declaration on Population (Unites Nations A/S-21/5/Add.1), which was adopted in 1999.
Asia is home to about 60 percent of the world population. The region has conditions that allow us to live and has the wisdom that supports this way of life. At present, Asia is facing difficulty to preserve the social institutions for these conditions. The surge of liberalization without exception of trade forces us to destroy these conditions and wisdom.
The world population is continually increasing. No one knows how many people the earths resources can support, but everybody knows that the earth has also limited capacity. An infinite increase in food production is not expected. Shortage of food or a certain commodity changes its nature from economical goods to political goods. Meanwhile, the WTOs discussion does not include the possibility of shortage in food production in light of the carrying capacity of our planet and the trend in population increase.
We cannot survive beyond the limitation of the earths capacity. We need to understand that the lives of all creatures are more important than economical profit.
Under the tireless competition, a number of people will be defeated while only a few with power will win. This kind of misery should not be allowed, as it will destroy human dignity.
It is essential that consistency of the WTO rules with the food security concept be always observed. Indeed, work is needed to make this conceptual consistency between WTO rules and food security especially at this time of review process of the WTO rules.
Creation of more advanced rules that allows cooperation under the principle of competitiveness is in order. Conditions that preserve food for a country located in an ecologically vulnerable and disadvantage region should also be in the priority.
I wish to ask all of you who attended this meeting to work in your respective countries and make new rules with harmony, cooperation and sound competition with one other. From these steps, we will be able to find our bright future.
I believe the theme of this workshop is to sustain and empower food production capacity. I would like to ask all of you eminent researchers to think about how we can make a good manner of living through cooperation from one another and what measures should be taken. I think this is a very important point of view on food issue.
I urge you to work for the results of this meeting to be reflected into the WTO and FTA agreements. Thank you for inviting me to this important workshop. I am expecting to get wonderful results from this workshop.
By Mr Mafa E. Chipeta
Director, FAO Policy Assistance Division
Colleagues from the various policy assistance branches and units of FAO outside of Asia-Pacific had come here largely to listen. I have tried very hard to maintain that and my colleagues also although at some point we could not help but share some of our experiences with focus on our work.
I would like to reassure you that we have not been disappointed. We have gained tremendously from this opportunity, not just in terms of the content of the meeting but in seeing the evidence of the capacity of the region and the continuing interest in agriculture issues even as the region moves towards industrialization and other ways of making a living for its people. I encourage you to continue this and I can assure you of a ready listening ear and ready interaction on the part of the whole network of FAO policy offices around the world.
Let me say that the free dialogue and professional stimulation that were started at this stage should be treated as a point of departure for greater cooperation and networking among us. You have heard the various stories. You have heard a number of things that my colleagues have said which may have relevance also to the Asia-Pacific region and therefore offer opportunities for cross-fertilization of ideas.
Two colleagues, Mr Felemi from the Pacific and Mr Groude from the Carribean, happen to be working in areas dominated by small islands developing states. In the case of the Carribean, nowhere can you see a more dramatic example of how globalization implemented without forethought can dislocate economies. You have there a very precipitate withdrawal of trade preferences in economies that have no option to fall back on. The equivalent for those economies is a cyclone and this cyclone is repeating itself everyday. Those economies, which used to depend on sugar and bananas, now have nothing to depend on. They have tourism and that puts them at the mercy of a very unpredictable lifestyle. These are issues that we have to keep in mind as we look at the way we do our work.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank very sincerely our partners in organizing this meeting. I extend those thanks through Dr Balisacan, to all that are in your party who worked behind the scenes as well as in front. We greatly appreciate it. I would also like to thank my own colleague, Mr Syed, and the Chairman at the Region Office. We had here a very congenial atmosphere and we were offered a great welcome. Im sure my colleagues join me in this appreciation.
The question of "what next" is better addressed by others including those who organized the meeting. I would just like to assure you of FAOs readiness to cooperate, to maintain a sense of realism in our cooperation and to build on the diversity of the issues to really understand the principles that underlie agricultural development. Let us try to take advantage of our diversity.
I would like to appeal for one particular aspect in whatever we do. And that is: Let us find a way to get our message on policy concerns and policy opportunities beyond the audience who are already converted. In this room, we are all on one side of the fence. It is not we that need convincing but those on the other side - people who govern the bigger economy, people who decide on overall policy priorities in the countries. How do we engage them? How do we get them to support our case? We have to worry about the image of agriculture. We have to interest the young generation in it. We have to interest parliamentarians and politicians. How do we do it? I think that should be part of our agenda.
Again, thank you very much.
By Dr Arsenio M. Balisacan
Director, SEAMEO SEARCA
Let me just take this opportunity to thank each one of you for the very impressive quality of your participation. The productive discussions we had today and yesterday have indeed elevated the discussions on food security and hunger in this part of the world.
Let me make two points. First is the publication plan. We intend to make the papers presented in this workshop accessible. The revised papers will be uploaded in the website of SEARCA and possibly also in FAO. We will ask our paper writers to submit their revised version by mid-April so that these can be made accessible as early as possible. The second point I would like to note is that we would like to see this exercise as a work in progress. The work done at the national level or at the national centres is evolving and we would like to see this grow even further. We hope to see further development on the regional collaboration that we have initiated. We hope this regional activity will help enrich our policy advice to national governments. I would also like to say that it is my wish that the points made and the discussions we have initiated here not end in this room but eventually be translated into policy advice and delivered to the appropriate venues - in the halls of congress, in the executive branches of governments - so that they can advance food security in this part of the world and elsewhere.
We will pursue further regional collaboration to enrich our policy advice as well as illuminate institutional development issues. I would like to highlight the following points, which surfaced in our discussion yesterday and today. First, there is a need to address the issues related to the World Trade Organization (WTO), the achievement of millennium development goals (MDGs) and the ASEAN-China- Japan-Korea trade agreements. Second, we must also focus on the concerns related to public investment, especially for the less developed countries in the region where the fiscal bind is a major constraint. Third, food safety was mentioned several times as a major policy concern and we hope that this will be followed up in subsequent workshops. Finally, there are the non-trade concerns. I think there is a good place and scope for enriching the discussions on this with our colleagues from Republic of Korea, Japan and many other countries that have a strong interest in the topic. We owe it to ourselves to understand and put the issues into their proper perspective.
And finally, let me say that as the head of SEARCA, we will continue to pursue cooperation and partnerships with organizations in this region, particularly with the FAO. I would like to express our gratitude, our sincere appreciation for this collaboration with FAO. Id like to see it as just the beginning of a good partnership and we hope that with FAO-RAP, we will see the development of the issues discussed here and the deepening of collaborations between the research centres on the one hand and FAO and SEARCA on the other.
Again, thank you very much and have a safe return home.