The countries that make up Asia and the Pacific region are characterized by considerable diversity in terms of geography, culture, religion and political systems, as well as economic performance and social development. For instance, the region includes two of the most populous countries in the world, as well as some of the world’s smallest states. It contains the second largest economy on the globe, as well as some of the smallest, and whereas some countries are at the pinnacle of economic development, others are nomadic or agrarian (ADB, 2001). A few Asian countries have recorded unprecedented economic growth rates with an open market approach and achieved remarkable social development, while others are in the process of transforming from a centrally controlled economy to a market driven system. Nonetheless, the agriculture sector still makes a significant contribution to many economies in the Asian region.
The twenty-plus island countries in the South Pacific are characterized by significant differences in physical size, degree of isolation, resource endowment, stage of development and cultural background. In the Pacific region Kiribati, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Vanuatu are least developed countries. All face the physical disadvantages of remoteness, smallness and dispersion, and there are few opportunities for realising economies of scale. Agriculture has been the major source of livelihood security across the Pacific Islands, with semi-subsistence farming as the major form of production. Food security has emerged as a serious development concern where a focus on economic production, backed by spiralling levels of population growth and accelerated urban drift, has the capacity to disrupt the fine balance long maintained by family-based semi-subsistence systems.
Differences in religion, culture and traditions vary significantly among East Asia (East and Southeast), South Asia, Central Asia and the Pacific and Oceanic countries, influencing gender biases in both an affirmative and discriminatory manner. These differences are further accentuated by ethnic diversity and linguistic distinctions that contribute to a rising sense of cultural uniqueness, and that shape political realities and civil conflicts in new ways.
Unprecedented rates of economic and agricultural growth transformed Asia and the Pacific region during the past two decades, accompanied in many places by impressive social gains and improvements in living conditions. In addition to the overall favourable economic performance, lowered population pressures played an important part in the social transformation that took place (ADB, 2001). Yet despite the impressive gains, extreme inequities persist in terms of economic prosperity, livelihood opportunities and food security among, as well as within, countries. Rural and urban disparity in economic achievement is a common development dilemma as is rural poverty and persisting food insecurity. Among regional FAO member countries, 21 are designated as low income food deficit countries and these also are agriculture dependent economies.
“Within the region, in spite of impressive gains, extreme inequities persist in terms of economic prosperity among, as well as within countries. There are 21 low income food deficit countries among the FAO member countries in the region and these also are agriculture dependent economies.”