TWENTY-SIXTH FAO REGIONAL CONFERENCE FOR ASIA AND THE PACIFIC

Kathmandu, Nepal, 13-17 May 2002

STATEMENT OF THE DIRECTOR-GENERAL

Mr. Chairman,

The Right Honourable Sher Bahadur Deuba, Prime Minister of Nepal,

Excellencies,

Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

(Introduction)

It is a privilege and a great honour for me to address you at this Twenty-Sixth FAO Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific in Kathmandu. Here in this 2000-year old “City of Temples”, the people’s hospitality is as warm as the mountains in the background are high. We are literally and figuratively speaking, “on top of the World” to reflect on the important issues of food security, sustainable agriculture and rural development. Our meeting, here in the Himalayas, is also highly symbolic in view of the fact that the United Nations has designated 2002 as the “Year of the Mountain”.

I wish to express my thanks to His Majesty’s Government of Nepal for having invited us to hold the Conference here. I am especially grateful to His Excellency Sher Bahadur Deuba, Prime Minister of Nepal. His presence at today’s inaugural ceremony testifies to the high priority His Majesty’s Government is giving to poverty alleviation and food and nutrition security.

(State of food and agriculture in the world)

Mr. Chairman,
Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

This Regional Conference is taking place in a global economic, social and political context that is undergoing rapid change.

The Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO), held in Doha last November, has established the framework for more equitable terms of international trade of agricultural products. During the next years, the globalisation and liberalisation of trade for agricultural products, the movement of capital, and the transfer of technology should take place in such a way that both the developed and the developing countries will be able to enhance the living conditions of their people. For agriculture in particular, it is essential that the new negotiations under the WTO provide the developing countries with greater opportunities to participate in fairer international trade. FAO will continue to make available to its Member Nations the analyses and information needed to reinforce the technical skills of negotiators in agricultural trade.

The last two years have seen a relatively modest performance of the agricultural sector, the economic mainstay of the poorer regions that employs more than 70 percent of the economically active population in the least developed countries. The annual rate of growth of world agricultural production fell to 1.2 percent in 2000 and to 0.6 percent in 2001, the lowest level since 1993 and a sharp drop from the 2.6 percent of 1999.

World cereal production fell in 2001 to 1,850 million tonnes, 1.2 percent down from the previous year. A number of factors have contributed to this reduction: the natural disasters and low prices of recent years, and government policies to reduce surplus supply.

The projections are that world utilisation of cereals in 2001/02 should exceed output for the second consecutive year, amounting to 1,935 million tonnes, up 1.7 percent from the previous crop year.

Importantly, however, Australia, the European Union and North America have sizeable food surpluses for export (with a total value of US$36,000 million) and are probably in a position to significantly increase their food production. On the other hand, food production in the low-income food-deficit countries (LIFDCs) is not enough to satisfy the needs of their populations, and these countries have neither the means nor the funds to offset the shortfall through imports.

Meanwhile, agricultural prices have continued to fall. Cereals have posted an accumulated price reduction of 43 percent. Prices of fats and oils have declined by 35 percent.

The world still has some 815 million undernourished people, including 777 million in the developing countries, 27 million in the countries in transition and 11 million in the industrialised countries. The improvement recorded in some countries and parts of the developing world, notably in East Asia, is thus neutralised by the worsening situation in other regions, especially sub-Saharan Africa, Central America and the Caribbean.

The gap between output and needs in the food deficit regions will continue to widen unless there is an increase in rural investment to generate higher employment, income, productivity and production. Until there is an abatement in hunger and malnutrition, it will be difficult, indeed impossible, to achieve appreciable and sustainable results in other vital domains of the fight against poverty, such as health and education.

(Emergencies)

Food shortages caused by natural disasters have continued to affect many countries. As of late last year, there were 33 countries and 62 million people facing food emergencies. However, data indicate that their relative frequency has changed over the last thirty years. Whilst in the 1970s and 1980s food emergencies were mainly the result of natural factors, in more recent years they have been originating from man-made disasters.

The role of FAO in such a context is more important than ever, primarily in assessing the food and agricultural situation, determining food aid needs and informing the international community, thanks to the Global Information and Early Warning System, which is working in particular with the World Food Programme.

(Other crises)

The long-term viability of intensive agriculture in the developed countries raises concerns and poses problems. The epidemics of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) and foot-and-mouth disease, salmonella, and mutant drug-resistant E. coli infection have changed consumer perception of the consequences of unbridled efforts to intensify and maximise yields, and to cut costs.

Elsewhere, the genetic modification of food crops and animals has sparked off fierce controversy. While GMOs are not necessary today to achieve the objectives of the 1996 World Food Summit, they offer great potential for feeding a growing world population. Their development and application need to be monitored scientifically and in an international framework. This will make it possible to benefit from the positive aspects, while avoiding any possible detrimental effects on human health and the environment.

(State of food and agriculture in the Region)

Mr. Chairman,
Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

In contrast to most of the world, the Region’s agricultural sector continued to perform relatively well. In the past decade, its gross agricultural production index grew from 100 to 143: its food production index from 101 to 146. Both these were significantly higher than the rest of the world.

Outstanding accomplishments have been registered in dairy, livestock, vegetables, fruits and aquaculture. Regional output of these products grew at spectacular rates ranging from 4.0 to 13.0 percent per annum during the past decade. The Region has also performed quite well in the raw materials’ group, including oil crops and rubber, with production growth rates in excess of 2.5 percent annually. Achievements in the beverage sub-sector have been mixed. Starting from a small base, coffee production grew at the rate of 6.7 percent per annum in the past decade. Tea expanded moderately; but cocoa output stagnated. Output of cereals, roots and tubers and pulses has been higher than population growth in the past decade.

In forestry, trends have been mixed. Spread of fires lit for land clearance have destroyed vast areas. Progress towards improved forest management through such FAO-supported approaches as participatory action, product certification, reduced impact logging, and management codes of practice, have been steady though slow.

Fisheries plays an important role in the Region. In 1990, 84 percent of the world's full-time fishers lived in Asia. In that year, fishers represented more than 5 percent of the economically active population in agriculture in 38 countries; and in 15 of those, the figure was higher than 10 percent. Additional employment is increasingly being created in the expanding aquaculture sub-sector. The sector’s role in nutrition is also significant in the Region, with Asia accounting for two-thirds of the world’s total consumption of fishery products of 93.8milliontonnes. Overall, the fisheries sector has been growing by 4 percent per annum over the past decade, dwarfing by far the 1.4 percent growth rate for crop production.

Regional imports of agricultural products rose by an outstanding 5.1 percent annually. Exports increased in tandem by 4.5 percent per year over the past decade.

The proportion of undernourished in the total population fell from 20 to 16 percent - a reduction in the number of undernourished by 10 million per year. This, though, is two million short of the rate required to meet the World Food Summit target.

Five of the world’s ten best performing countries in hunger reduction were in this Region. On the downside, the numbers of undernourished people actually increased in eight countries. Undernourishment and malnutrition in the midst of plenty is a highly visible characteristic of countries in Asia and the Pacific.

(Main challenges and priorities for the future)

Mr. Chairman,
Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Agriculture must return to its rightful position as the engine of growth of low-income food-deficit economies. The forthcoming World Food Summit: five years later, scheduled for June in Rome, and the Summit on Sustainable Development scheduled for August in Johannesburg, will give us the opportunity to convince stakeholders that agriculture, forestry and fisheries are, and will continue to be prime movers of least developed economies.

It is therefore crucial that we increase the flow of capital into the sector for water control and soil management, marketing infrastructure and services as well as agricultural research investments in farming. This will involve: reversing the declining inflow of foreign grants and concessional loans; raising foreign direct investment; increasing government allocations for public goods; and channelling more private domestic savings for agricultural investments. The challenge is in improving the cost-effectiveness of aid and raising returns to investments in farming. The International Conference on Financing for Development in Monterrey in March has indicated some directions to take.

A high priority is to implement the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which will ensure equitable sharing and preservation of our genetic heritage.

Another big challenge is to implement comprehensive action plans combining legal and fiscal measures with effective enforcement to conserve forests and protect watersheds.

It is also urgent that developing countries increase their capacity for early warning, prevention and management of disasters, in view of their incidence and impact.

Globalisation and increasing trade liberalisation are bringing forth opportunities and threats; but so far there is no level playing field, particularly in agriculture. Issues of comparative and competitive disadvantage are posing threats to the resource-poor farmers and labourers at a time when OECD countries provide huge support (estimated at US$11billion in 2001) for their agriculture. The challenge is therefore to translate the Doha Ministerial Conference Statement advocating fair and equitable trade regimes, into action. We must ensure that any new trade agreements are pro-poor.

Finally, all income and food security improvements must eventually lead to eradication of protein-energy malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies. It will be necessary to overcome social, cultural and income constraints, in particular by implementing community-based action plans that would ensure improved nutrition.

(Agenda Items)

Mr. Chairman,
Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

This Twenty-Sixth Regional Conference will examine the key issues relating to the fight against food insecurity. One of its major tasks will be to prepare for the World Food Summit: five years later, which will be held in Rome from 10 to 13 June this year to accelerate implementation of the decisions taken in 1996, and make it possible to reduce by half the number of people suffering from hunger by the year 2015. This important meeting, which was postponed because of tragic international circumstances, should help revitalise the fight against hunger. Progress made towards the objective set in 1996 of halving the number of undernourished people in the world by 2015 has been inadequate. At the present rate, this would only be achievable towards 2050. The Summit this June will be called upon to identify and adopt concrete measures to correct this delay. It is imperative to reinforce the political will at the highest level and to mobilise the necessary financial resources. This means forging strategic alliances and devising appropriate mechanisms and incentives for marshalling public and private funding, along two main lines of action:


Strengthening political will through alliances for food security and rural development that should involve all sectors of society: the governments, the private sector and civil society organizations.
Mobilising private and public funds for agriculture and rural development to reverse the negative trend of bilateral overseas development assistance which fell by 43 percent in real terms between 1990 and 1999, and the share of the portfolio of World Bank and regional financial institutions which fell by 40 percent during the same period.

In this context, the personal participation of the Heads of State and Government of the Asia and Pacific Region at the World Food Summit is essential for its success. I therefore look forward to the pleasure of welcoming them in Rome in June. Besides the statements at plenary sessions, the Heads of State and Government will be able to exchange views at round tables and participate, if they so wish, in daily press conferences. Separate meetings of parliamentarians, private sector NGOs and Civil Society will give other stakeholders the opportunity to provide their input to the debate.

Another major item on your agenda is Sustainable Mountain Development in Asia and the Pacific. The mountain ecosystem is the source of most of the world’s fresh water and is rich in biodiversity and other resources; but it is very fragile. In many parts of the world, the mountain is being degraded by over-exploitation of its forest, water and wildlife resources. Mountain peoples, among the poorest and most food insecure, are the first to pay the price of this unfortunate trend. Recognising the problems, the United Nations has designated 2002 as the International Year of the Mountain (IYM). The aim is to protect mountain ecosystems and to improve the livelihoods of mountain people. FAO was asked to be the lead coordinating agency. The Conference agenda provides an opportunity to exchange ideas, information and experiences in this initiative.

Poverty and food insecurity persist primarily because of inequity in resource distribution and low productivity. Over 70 percent of the poor in developing countries live in rural areas. The need to empower the rural poor, especially farmers, through devolution of responsibility and resources, is therefore urgent. In this Conference, empowerment of the rural poor is a major topic for discussion. I might mention here that this is what FAO’s Special Programme on Food Security is trying to achieve in LIFDCs, helping the rural poor to increase productivity, raise incomes and enrich their food sources.

In Asia and the Pacific, livestock and fish are important sources of food and income, means of risk diversification and ways of asset accumulation. In the past decade, fishery and livestock sectors have been increasing by 3.3 and 4.0 percent per annum, respectively, compared with 1.4 percent per annum for crop production. Their growth rates in Asia as a whole, outpace those of other regions of the world. The risks associated with growth in production, such as resource degradation, must be mitigated and the potentials tapped to benefit the rural poor. How aquaculture and livestock can contribute more to poverty alleviation and improved nutrition is also a subject for consideration during this Conference.

(Other issues)

Mr. Chairman,
Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me mention two other important issues. On the occasion of World Food Day, last October, the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, His Excellency Mr Johannes Rau, called for an International Alliance against hunger and poverty. This concept was subsequently widely supported at the FAO Conference in November 2001. Such an Alliance, the support for which was also expressed at the FAO Regional Conferences for Africa, the Near East, and Latin America and the Caribbean, could be the tangible expression of reinforced political will and an important step towards removing the despair and anger that are so favourable to extremism.

  1. Also, the Organization last year set up a Trust Fund for Food Security and Food Safety. It will play a catalytic role in increasing investment in agriculture and rural development, through:
  2. Pilot projects of food production and income generation in poor rural communities.
  3. Programmes for eradicating transboundary pests and diseases of plants and animals.
  4. Transfer of technology, in particular through South-South Cooperation.

• Strengthening of capacities to prepare feasibility studies of bankable projects.

The success to date, with 20 percent of the initial sum of US$500 million already secured, would be even greater if further pledges could be made before the Summit.

  1. Both developed and developing countries are expected to participate, in accordance, naturally, with their means and political commitments to ensure that this fund is truly universal.

Mr. Chairman,
Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

This is the first FAO Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific to be held at the dawn of this Century. I am confident that you will contribute to the efforts of preparing agriculture, at national and regional levels, for the challenges of the Twenty-First Century. I trust you will spare no effort in giving due consideration to these vital issues and propose the most required actions for accelerating the progress of agricultural development and ensuring food security for all men and women of this Region.

I eagerly await the results of your deliberations and I wish you a very successful meeting.

Thank you all for your kind attention.