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JAKARTA, 18 MAY 2006

Assalamu’alaikum Warrahmatulallahi Wabarakatuh,

Excellencies Ministers of the FAO Member Countries,
Your Excellency Dr. Diouf, Director General of the FAO,
Distinguished Delegates and Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of the Government and the people of Indonesia, I welcome you all to Jakarta as we meet for this 28th FAO Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific.

Indonesia is honored to host this important Regional Conference. It is one way of demonstrating our full commitment to the UN mission and vision in Food and Agriculture development sectors.

Let us start with the thought that any conference about food, such as this one, is really a forum about the sustainability of human life and its age-old enemy, the wolf of hunger.

All of humankind should indeed unite in a fight against hunger, not only because it kills human beings in large numbers but also because it kills in a way that deprives its victim of his human dignity.

The right to food, then, is the right to life. And when this right to life is not protected and promoted by governments and societies, and when—for any reason—an individual is not able to exercise this right, then all the other rights are meaningless.

A man dying of hunger cannot properly exercise his right to vote. A child in the throes of malnutrition cannot benefit from his right to education.

That is why we all would like to see a world that is secure with its food supply and all the means to sustain life, like water, medicine, clothing and shelter. But there remain large expanses of poverty where these life-sustaining items are lacking, and they form the basic challenge of our time.

Consider these grim statistics. One of every five human beings on this planet lives on less than one US dollar a day. One of every five human beings has no access to clean water.

About 800 million people in the developing world suffer from malnutrition. Every year some 10 million children die of preventable diseases. That means that between this morning and this coming midnight, 30,000 children shall have died for lack of money to buy medicine or food. Those who survive malnutrition face another grim reality : some 115 million school-aged children are out of school.

Clearly, if we are going to change these awful statistics into the positive numbers of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) achieved by 2015, we have to try harder and work in greater concert than we are doing now.

That means that agricultural production, and its post-harvest follow up, have to improve several times over—for agriculture is the economic activity that directly produces food. And it remains the pillar of many Asian-Pacific economies.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen

For decades now, the countries of Asia and the Pacific have had solid achievements in the field of agricultural production.

That was what the Green Revolution was all about. And it is true that the factors underpinning Asian growth are still at work: sensible macroeconomic policies, a young population, high savings and investment rates, entrepreneurial cultures and the high value placed on education.

But these have not been enough to match the region’s increase in population and its expanding need for food security.

Natural disasters also regularly form a constraint to productivity, as do political, economic and social factors. And the trade policies of our developed trading partners often militate against our development.

We in Indonesia recognize these challenges, as we pursue our transition to a modern, inclusive, tolerant democracy. We continue to adopt and adhere to pragmatic policies to support a growing market economy that is still considerably based on fishery and agricultural production. We are fortunate that we have more than enough natural resources to match our food production requirements.

But our drive toward food security is hampered by many constraints both internal and external.

One internal constraint is the large number of our vulnerable people living in chronically food insecure regions. We are now rectifying inefficiencies in agricultural production and food distribution. And we frequently suffer transient food insecurity due to natural disasters—such as the earthquake and the tsunami that devastated our province of Aceh and Nias.

We also face major external constraints, such as the imbalances and inequities of the international trading regime, which limit our capacity to export our agricultural commodities.

Nevertheless, agriculture contributes about 15 percent of our national GDP and is the main source of income for our rural population. Although Indonesia has had a high rate of growth in the industrial and service sectors during the last few decades, over half our population is still living in rural areas.

The increasing rural population and the reduced economic growth rate in recent years have been putting considerable pressure on arable land. Large areas have become degraded because of misuse and over-exploitation. We intend to reverse this trend.

My administration is fully committed to reinvigorating the agriculture sector of the Indonesian economy. This policy is part of our strategy for reducing unemployment, alleviating poverty and rectifying imbalances in the country’s development.

Another strategy that we have adopted is to bring more resources for development to the rural areas through a programme of decentralization. This programme began in 1999 as part of our efforts at democratic reform. Now it is also part of our economic strategy: decentralization gives local governments a more substantial share of revenues and the power to decide on their own priorities. Thus, they have been empowered to take ownership of their development paths.

At the same time, we have been confident enough to open up our economy, including our agriculture sector. Consumer confidence, which is today driving the Indonesian economy, has made Indonesia a large food purchasing country.

Unfortunately for developing countries like Indonesia, the playing field of international trade is not level. Protectionist trade policies in the developed world have impacted negatively on developing countries. We the developing countries are the ones suffering the downside of trade liberalization.

In this regard, I commend the FAO for encouraging countries to actively participate in the current multilateral negotiations on the reform of agricultural trade rules. Heartened by the FAO’s advocacy, I look forward to the realization of the Doha Development Agenda. This will enable developing countries to benefit from trade in a way that will boost their development—particularly rural development and food security.

I hope the FAO succeeds in opening up opportunities for developing countries in the Doha Round. Thus, subsidies that distort trade and production will be reduced or eliminated. With the laying down of trade rules that are more friendly to development, economic constraints now burdening developing countries can be overcome while imbalances in the international trade regime can be rectified.

I would also like to express Indonesia’s appreciation of the FAO’s strong support for countries grappling with outbreaks of Avian Influenza. This is a formidable challenge not only because of its threat of a human pandemic that can decimate whole populations, but also because of its adverse effects on food security and poverty alleviation.

The international community has responded to the threat of a human pandemic promptly and vigorously, considering that no country is immunse to this threat. Pledging conferences have been held in Geneva in late 2005 and in Beijing in early 2006. Still, the stakes are so high that the FAO must never cease reminding the international community to give full financial and technical support to the fight against Avian Influenza.

For more than five decades now, the FAO has served as a reliable partner of the countries of our region in poverty alleviation and food security through increased agricultural productivity and rural development.

Today, we also need the FAO as a partner in promoting cooperation in the field of agriculture so that nations can learn from one another’s experience and expertise. One of the problems that we can address together in this manner is the degradation of the environment.

The doubling of Asia’s energy demand every 12 years has serious consequences on air quality and worsens global warming. We are already seeing across the region the consequences of unrestrained overuse of fertilizers, irrigation systems and pesticides. The FAO can be of great help as we come to grips with these ecological concerns.

Like many other nations, Indonesia looks to the FAO for help in its efforts to meet its commitments to the World Food Summit Declaration and to the Millennium Development Goals. We appreciate the support and technical assistance that we are getting from the Organization. So do many other nations that have benefited from its work. Hence, we should all be strengthening our cooperation with the FAO in every way.

And we do have an opportunity to reciprocate the FAO’s helpfulness to us. In the light of its undeniably difficult mandate, we can and should vigorously support FAO reform. A stronger FAO will be even more effective in helping us attain our Millennium Development Goals in spite of such challenges as natural catastrophes, trans-boundary animal diseases, energy crises and distortions in the international trade regime.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen

The fire of hunger burns in millions of human stomachs everyday. While that fire burns, the world we live in will be never be truly secure and just. With the help of the FAO, let us put out that fire.

With that appeal, I declare this Ministerial Meeting in the Twenty-Eighth FAO Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific officially open.

Wassalamu’alaikum Warrahmatullahi Wabarakatuh.

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