COMMITTEE ON WORLD FOOD SECURITY
Rome, 20-23 September 2004
KEYNOTE ADDRESS BY THE HONOURABLE
Mr. Deputy-Director General of FAO,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
On behalf of the Royal Thai Government, I have the great pleasure and honour to attend this 30th Session of the Committee on World Food Security. I am most thankful to FAO for this invitation. I wish to take this great opportunity to share with you Thailand’s experience in tackling the problems of food security as well as to inform you Thailand’s role and position regarding this important issue in international arena. I would be very pleased if the information that I am going to share with you is beneficial for the deliberations during this meeting which hopefully will lead to betterment in food production and distribution to alleviate poverty and hunger all around the world.
I have been informed that it was here in this building – in 1996 and again in 2002 – when Heads of States and Heads of Governments gathered and declared the goal of the World Food Summit and World Food Summit: Five Years Later in reducing by half the number of the malnourished and hungry people of the world by 2015. The current figure of the poor worldwide stands at around 800 million people. However, based on the current rate, as reported by the FAO, the goal can hardly be achieved, if we do not accelerate our efforts in order to alleviate the widespread poverty that is so prevalent in the developing world.
On the part of Thailand, we have been blessed by an abundance of food and have been able to export our agricultural products to the world market. Statistically, we are the world largest exporter of rice, shrimp, cassava, canned tuna, and canned pineapple. In addition, the FAO has ranked Thailand the 14th largest world agricultural and food exporter while the World Trade Organization (WTO) ranked Thailand the 5th largest exporter when all European countries were counted as single community. However, in spite of this, a large number of Thai people at the grassroot level are still struggling to get over the poverty line.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
For the case of Thailand, the main cause of food insecurity stems from poverty, lack of access to food and lack of opportunities. Thailand’s experience in poverty alleviation in the past recent years can be traced back to the country’s financial crisis in 1997 when the agricultural sector had to play a major role in economic recovery by absorbing jobless rural and, to a smaller extent, urban people. Self-reliance and competitiveness with the outside world have become the national agenda to be realized by the present government led by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Focussing at poverty, the government has closely examined the whole issue and decided that it had to be tackled at its roots. We strongly believe that all the Thai people have the will and determination to improve their livelihood and upgrade their standard of living, but what they most lack are funds and opportunities. We had adopted three crucial steps; first, to reduce expenditures; second to increase income; and third to increase opportunities.
We have then launched a number of programmes. The first programme to reduce expenditures at the grassroots level in the agricultural sector was to follow respectfully His Majesty King Bhumipol’s advice on Economic Self-Sufficiency. The second one was a three-year debt suspension for farmers on both interest and principal payments so as to relieve the debt burden and to adopt more viable and self-sustaining farming operations in the long term.
The third program to reduce expenditures among low-income earners was the 75 US cents medical care scheme. Under this scheme, all Thai people are guaranteed to have equal access to any hospital at 75 cents per visit with a nationally acceptable standard of health care.
To increase the income, the One Village One Product Project, known as the OTOP has been introduced nationwide so as to encourage local communities to use their indigenous skills, local resources and know-how to create unique, outstanding products of their own, utilizing available raw materials with the value adding component. These products turn out to be a significant source of extra income. The government and the private sector have joined hands in the transfer of technical knowledge in the production process and in the efforts to market them both domestically and overseas. After two years of implementation, the OTOP sales in 2003 have exceeded four hundred twenty million US dollars.
To increase opportunities, a Village Revolving Fund was established as a source of finance to create alternative income-generating activities for the population. Each of the country’s seventy-one thousand villages was provided with one million Baht or twenty-five thousand US dollars as a loan facility available for individuals and households to finance their investments. The Fund in each village was managed by the village committee. After two years of project implementation, it was remarkable to find that only 2 percent were non-performing loans.
Apart from the Village Revolving Fund, a People’s Bank was also established to provide additional funds for low-income people so as to improve their competitiveness in conducting businesses, without any requirement of assets as collateral. Parallel to this programme, the Bureau of Assets Capitalization was set up to valuate several assets like usufruct rights, intellectual property rights, tenurial rights, movable properties and so forth. The assets valuation is carried out in cooperation with the banking sector. Thus, the owners and asset holders can have better access to funding.
One of the major concerns of my Government is not only the accessibility to food but also the safety of food. As food safety is crucial to consumers, the sanitary and phytosanitary measures have become one of the non-trade barriers and drastically altered competitiveness of agricultural and food products from developing countries. The government has, therefore, set the national agenda in promoting Thailand as a “Kitchen of the World” by applying single standard of food for both domestic consumers and foreign markets.
Moreover, the Thai government is the first country in the World who declared the year 2004 as the national Food Safety Year. Agricultural and food producers were encouraged to adopt a food chain approach to food safety; namely the Good Agricultural Practices and the Good Manufacturing Practices. More importantly, traceability measures have been implemented.
Looking into the future, the government is in the process of restructuring agricultural sector to deal with the global competitiveness among trading partners. In so doing, a number of agricultural commodities with promising potentials have been selected for further development. This program includes the improvement of organic products, oil palm, and tropical fruits. We are now prepared to meet the expected emerging trend on the world’s agricultural production and trade.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In the attempt to bring about poverty reduction in international arena, Thailand has played an active role in bilateral, regional and multilateral cooperation.
Within Southeast Asia, Thailand adheres to the policy of “Prosper thy neighbour”. We are not convinced that development and prosperity are what a nation can do all alone. This has inspired us to launch the Ayeyarwady - Chao Phya - Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy programme (ACMECS), initially with our adjacent neighbours: Myanmar, Lao PDR and Cambodia, and now with Vietnam joining. ACMECS aims to generate employment and income based on comparative advantage among our neighbours. Other similar entities with Asian countries are namely the Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Thailand Economic Cooperation Strategy (BIMST-ECS) and the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS).
To promote cooperation in reducing poverty and improving the quality of life among Asian people, the Prime Minister initiated, in 2002, the Asia Cooperation Dialogue, or ACD. This is indeed an important part of Thailand’s dual track policy under which all necessary mechanisms are put in place to allow both the domestic and international policy objectives to be pursued effectively.
As a member of ASEAN, Thailand has been active and constructive in its affairs. In the area of food security, Thailand, with cooperation of the Japanese government, has undertaken a three-year pilot project of the East Asia Emergency Rice Reserve (EAERR) management system, commencing in March 2004. The objective is to establish an effective mechanism to release rice stock for emergency relief, food aids, and poverty reduction.
As for bilateral and regional trade cooperation, Thailand has engaged in free trade area (FTA) negotiations with ASEAN, several Asian countries and beyond with the aim to facilitate the market access of agricultural products for trading partners, and thus improving the livelihood of the grassroot people.
Meanwhile, Thailand is also fully committed to multilateral cooperation by endorsing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and World Food Summit declarations so as to halve the number of undernourished people by the year 2015. The Government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has publicly announced to eradicate poverty by the year 2009.
In multilateral trade negotiations, Thailand has shared the strong determination of most developing countries in eliminating trade-distorting domestic support and export subsidies on agricultural products. Consequently, we believe that a free and fair global trade is the vital element to uplift income of the poor.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In concluding my presentation, I personally would like to reiterate that, if we, members of the FAO, want to accomplish the goal of World Food Summit Declaration, political will must be clearly demonstrated. I firmly believe that there is no universal remedy to tackle the problems of food insecurity. Instead, learning from each other as well as adapting measures would be the best solution. My government is willing to share her experience in greater detail with our colleagues, especially those from developing countries for the mutual benefit of the world.
Thank you for your kind attention.