It is a great pleasure to address the Twenty-seventh FAO Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific which is being held for the second time in this vibrant, industrious city of Beijing. The gains made by China in the fight against hunger testify to the performance of its agricultural sector, which manages so successfully to blend traditional know-how with modern technology. On behalf of the Organization and all of you, I should like to express my profound gratitude to the Government and people of China for hosting this Conference and for their warm welcome.
State of food and agriculture in the world
During the first half of the 1990s, the number of hungry people in the world declined by 37 million. In contrast, during the second half, it increased by 18 million. Positive achievements in many counties were countered by setbacks in many others. In 1999-2001, there were 842 million undernourished people in the world, including 798 million in the developing countries, 34 million in the countries in transition and 10 million in the industrialized countries. At this rate, the World Food Summit’s objective of halving the number of hungry people by 2015 will only be achieved in 2150.
In 2003, world cereal utilization came close to 1970 million tonnes, exceeding production by 100 million tonnes.
The prices of many export commodities from developing countries are now lower than ever. Coffee and cotton are the most spectacular examples, but cocoa, sugar and bananas are in the same situation. Moreover, 43 countries earn more than 20 percent of their total export revenue and more than 50 percent of their total agricultural revenue from just one commodity.
After the failure of the Cancun Ministerial Conference, negotiations have resumed following the meeting of the General Council of the World Trade Organization in December 2003. Commitment to achieving the Doha Development Agenda for the agricultural sector was confirmed at the Round Table on this subject held during the Thirty-second Session of the FAO Conference, for a fair trading policy is essential for rural development and food security. In this context, the role of FAO’s Committee on Commodity Problems is more important than ever. It is with this in mind that I wish to invite representatives of the Ministries of Trade to the next session of this Committee in February 2005.
At constant 1995 prices, external aid to agricultural development fell from US$27 billion to between US$10 and 15 billion during the 1990s, whereas the amount should be doubled and agriculture’s share of national budgets should be increased if there is to be accelerated progress in reducing undernourishment.
Round tables on financing for agricultural development
It is to mobilize such financial resources that FAO has decided to organize, with the regional development banks, round tables on financing for agriculture alongside each of its 2004 Regional Conferences in the developing regions.
World Food Summit: five years later
During the June 2002 World Food Summit: five years later held in Rome, the Heads of State and Government resolved to hasten implementation of the Summit’s Plan of Action and called for an International Alliance Against Hunger.
National alliances are thus being formed in member countries to mobilize governments, parliaments, NGOs, civil society, the private sector and agricultural organizations.
The developing countries need to take up the challenge of agricultural productivity and market competitiveness to improve their food security.
Soil is currently under accelerated degradation, affecting 21 million hectares of arable land. In the arid and semi-arid areas that cover 45 percent of the world’s land surface, the integrated management of land, water and fertilizer can significantly mitigate this situation.
Urban and periurban agriculture and home and school microgardens would help rapidly improve the nutritional status of poor population groups with relatively modest levels of investment. FAO has undertaken such projects in all regions of the world, notably with Technical Cooperation Programme resources and TeleFood funds.
Livestock sustains some 800 million rural poor and meets 30 to 40 percent of total food requirements.
Transboundary animal diseases, such as foot-and-mouth disease, haemorrhagic fever, Rift Valley fever, swine fever, contagious bovine pleuropneumonia and avian influenza, are sources of concern for trade and public health. Yet, real progress has been made in this domain. The battle against old and new epidemics is a major challenge that FAO and its partners are striving to meet under the Emergency Prevention System for Transboundary Animal and Plant Pests and Diseases (EMPRES).
The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture has already been ratified by 48 countries and will come into force on 29 June 2004.
A ministerial meeting on forestry will be convened in Rome in 2005 to study the recommendations of the Regional Commissions and to make strategic decisions on the future of the sector, especially to strengthen measures against forest fires.
In the fisheries sector, almost 10 percent of the world’s fish stocks are depleted and 18 percent are overexploited, mainly because of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, more efficient new technologies and excess fishing capacity. The situation is aggravated by the absence of monitoring and surveillance of vessels, employing satellite transponder technology in particular.
FAO will therefore be convening a meeting of Fisheries Ministers at its headquarters in 2005 to give renewed impetus to the actions that are needed in this sector.
Sustainable agricultural development
As regards sustainable agriculture and rural development, FAO is formulating a four-year project for mountain regions.
The International Conference of Small Island Developing States will be held in Mauritius in August 2004. FAO is actively involved in this initiative and will organize a Ministerial Conference on the Development of Agriculture in Small Island States in Rome in 2005.
Although women account for 60 percent of agricultural production in developing countries, they still have unequal access to productive resources. FAO is striving to tackle this problem, devising specific indicators for appropriate policies.
At the end of 2003, 38 countries were faced with serious food shortages that required international assistance. Food aid in cereals fell to 7.4 million tonnes in 2001-2002, down 23 percent from 2000-2001.
Eight million small farmers and agricultural workers died from HIV/AIDS between 1985 and 2000 in the 25 most affected countries. FAO is involved in the fight against this pandemic, conducting surveys of its impact on food security and developing agricultural production techniques that are less labour intensive.
Regional situation and outlook
In 2002, large-scale flooding and drought reduced agricultural production in the Asia and Pacific Region. Significantly, cereal production fell by 3.5 percent. The better weather conditions of 2003 resulted in higher production which should exceed one billion tonnes.
During the last two years, regional cereal stocks have fallen by one third to drop below 300 million tonnes for the first time in ten years. This fall is expected to continue in 2004 as a result of higher consumption and better stock management. The situation should however be closely monitored because of possible negative repercussions on stability of food supplies, especially in the low-income food deficit countries.
The annual increase in agricultural production in the Region reached 2.9 percent between 1990 and 2001, as compared to 1.4 percent for the population. Trade in agricultural commodities also increased, especially for high added-value products such as fruit and vegetables, meat, milk, coffee, vegetable oils and farmed fish. These impressive results reflect advances in production techniques and methods on largely irrigated land and in agricultural processing and marketing. The rapid increase in household income has stimulated demand and consumption.
This market-driven farming grounded in rapid economic growth has had a knock-on effect on the storage, processing, packaging and distribution sectors. The production of high-quality foods has also fuelled trade at regional and global level. Thus, intraregional trade in agricultural products rose 11 percent a year during the 1990s – double the growth rate for world agricultural trade. This can mainly be put down to trade liberalization measures and to bilateral agreements signed by the countries of the Region.
The employment and income that have been generated by this surge in agricultural production and trade should help reduce poverty, especially as the agricultural sector employs 56 percent of the region's population and as 75 percent of the poor live in rural areas.
The number of undernourished people fell by 62 million during the 1990s, but over 25 percent of the world's undernourished people live in South Asia. The proportion of population affected by undernutrition in the developing countries of the region fell from 20 percent in 1990-1992 to 16 percent in 1999-2001. The number of undernourished people will have to fall by 15 million each year instead of the current 6.8 million if the World Food Summit target is to be reached, given the continuing increase in population which is expected to reach 4 billion 859 million in 2050.
The Region's agriculture accounts for 10 percent of Gross Domestic Product but only 6 percent of national budgets. In view of its importance, agriculture should receive 8 percent of national operating and capital budgets over the next five years.
Population density has an impact on land pressure. Less than one-third of the Region's land area has retained forest cover. In addition, per capita water availability halved between 1955 and 1990. It amounted to 3 600 cubic metres per inhabitant per year in 2000 and is expected to fall by another third between now and 2025.
Inappropriate aquaculture has also aggravated the environmental situation, compromising the otherwise promising future of this activity for the Region’s food security. Urgent measures are needed to counter these trends, notably the strengthening of institutions and the determination of the rights and obligations of all agricultural players.
About 15 percent of internal renewable water resources are used for irrigation in Asia and the Pacific and 34 percent of its cropland is irrigated.
The Region is also subject to climatic events that are becoming increasingly frequent and damaging. There is recurring drought in Central and South Asia and repeated flooding in Southeast Asia. For the year 2002 alone, floods, droughts and tropical cyclones caused damage valued at US$7.5 billion, which is almost one-third of the estimated annual investment needed to combat hunger.
Avian influenza, the Nipah virus and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) are also a serious threat to agricultural development and economic growth.
The lack of land, capital and support services, particularly for the most deprived populations, and the insufficient number of farmers' associations are additional constraints to agricultural growth and food security.
Rice in sustainable agriculture and rural development
The Conference will be examining livelihood systems that are based on rice cultivation, in particular related technologies, management and impact on the environment. It is important to identify the underlying issues, such as land degradation, water scarcity, institutional shortcomings and natural disasters, in order to learn lessons for the shaping of future policies and programmes.
Institution building to strengthen agricultural extension
The institutional capacities of the countries of the Region are insufficient to meet the growing demand for information, particularly information on agricultural policies and programmes, markets, prices, technology and management techniques. There is therefore a need to upgrade information systems for all players involved in agricultural production and markets. And the strengthening of agricultural extension is part of this requirement.
Follow-up to the World Food Summit
The document on the Regional Dimensions of the Follow-up to the World Food Summit and the World Food Summit: five years later should provide an overview of the food security situation and outlook, of recent initiatives and of measures likely to reinforce national and regional plans of action. Particular attention will be given to the Programme for Food Security that has been formulated for the Pacific subregion, as well as those proposed by the Association of Southeast-Asian Nations (ASEAN) and South Asian Regional Cooperation (SARC).
Round Table on Financing for Agriculture
A Round Table on Financing for Agriculture has been organized, in parallel with this Conference and in cooperation with the Asian Development Bank (AsDB), to increase investment in agriculture. This Round Table will serve to discuss the level of funding allocated to agricultural development projects and the essential measures needed to increase agriculture's share of national budgets and of bilateral and multilateral financing.
I hope that the Round Table will encourage the countries of the Region, the financial institutions, such as the AsDB and the World Bank, as well as the other regional and subregional organizations to play a part in supporting the many programmes that are directed towards food security and rural development.
Main challenges and priorities for the future
Globalization and market trends call for a restructuring of the agricultural sector. But any reallocation of resources on the basis of comparative advantages also needs to consider the needs of the deprived rural populations, in particular the subsistence farmers, landless peasants and other vulnerable sectors. Investments need to be accompanied by safety nets for the most vulnerable population groups.
The beneficiaries need to be fully implicated in the agricultural restructuring process. Such participation calls for decentralization and the devolution of resources to local level, together with the installation of infrastructure and institutions that will help the deprived rural populations gain access to natural resources, inputs and technical and financial support services.
Prevention, management and a greater resilience to crisis in the agricultural sector are also required to break out of the vicious circle of poverty and food insecurity. FAO will continue to provide its assistance to the countries of the Region, with this in mind.
Measures are also needed to eliminate the degradation of land and other natural resources and to improve their management. There is a need to formulate and apply appropriate laws and regulations, to implement proper control and to encourage the formation of local natural resource management groups.
Biotechnology is being increasingly applied in certain countries of the Region to improve productivity and the quality of agricultural produce. But the real benefits of biotechnology need to be examined in the context of potential risks to human health, biodiversity and the environment. Governments and populations should have access to the information they need to make decisions and to put control and protection systems in place. A reference framework already exists for this in the form of the Codex Alimentarius, the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture and the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety under the Convention on Biological Diversity.
Rice cultivation is the most widespread and diverse livelihood system that exists in the countries of Asia and the Pacific. The United Nations has designated 2004 the International Year of Rice and its celebratory activities will provide an opportunity to improve the productivity of rice growing and enhance the living conditions of rice farmers, many of whom live below the poverty line.
I am confident that with capable leadership and the necessary political will, the countries of Asia and the Pacific will be able to rise to the challenges of hunger, malnutrition and poverty.
FAO will continue to provide its support to the Governments and partners of the region for the implementation of coherent and effective programmes, and for the mobilization of domestic and external financing.
I wish you every success in your work and thank you for your kind attention.