Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great honour and pleasure for me to welcome you to Jakarta, the capital of the Republic of Indonesia, for the Twenty-eighth FAO Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific. On behalf of the Organization and on my own behalf, I should like to express my profound gratitude to His Excellency, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and to his Government for their kind invitation, their warm welcome and their generous hospitality.
State of food insecurity in the world and in Asia and the Pacific
Hunger and poverty are now recognized as the two major scourges of humanity. While the number of undernourished persons in the developing countries fell by 26 million during the first half of the 1990s, it rose by 23 million between 1995-1997 and 2001-2003. At this rate, the objective of the 1996 World Food Summit of halving the number of undernourished people by 2015 will obviously not be achieved. This objective was reaffirmed in 2000 in the Millennium Development Goals.
Global per capita food production has risen steadily during the past thirty years. Yet, some 854 million people were still undernourished in the world in 2001-2003, with 552 million in the developing and transition economies of Asia and the Pacific. However, it needs to be said that the number of undernourished people in the developing countries of the region fell by 41 million between 1990-1992 and 2001-2003.
There has also been an improvement in the diets of the developing countries of Asia and the Pacific, where per capita daily calorie intake increased from 2 530 to 2 670 kcal between 1990-1992 and 2001-2003. The anthropometric indicators thus improved substantially among children under the age of five in virtually all countries of the region during the 1990s. Education and the change in status of women have contributed significantly to reducing child malnutrition.
However, 35 percent of the world's undernourished population reside in South Asia and the prevalence of underweight, stunting and wasting is higher in this region than anywhere else in the world.
Agricultural development in Asia and the Pacific in 2004-2005: the results
The growth in food and agriculture production has helped raise the incomes of farmers and the wages of unskilled labourers. Poor consumers have had access to more affordable food supplies. Poverty and hunger have declined and the standard of living in the region has improved.
Per capita cereal production continues to recover from the poor performance of 2002, while remaining below the peak of 1999. The region's agricultural economy continues to diversify, with vegetable production up 90 percent, oilseeds up 60 percent and fruit up 55 percent between 1994 and 2004.
The developing countries of Asia now have the world's highest growth rates for the production and consumption of food derived from livestock. Poultry production grew by 73 percent and egg production by 63 percent between 1994 and 2004.
Fish and aquaculture production
Aquaculture production rose by 114 percent between 1994 and 2004 and accounts for 91 percent of the world total. Capture fisheries, on the other hand, only increased by 6 percent because of overfishing of the region’s marine resources.
The forests of Asia and the Pacific are an important source of livelihood for approximately half a billion people, and the region is the world's leading exporter of tropical timber. Asia, as a region, managed to reverse the alarming trend of deforestation and to post a modest gain in forest cover during the 2000-2005 period, thanks to the vast reforestation campaigns waged by China.
Agricultural commodity trade
Agricultural commodity exports from Asia and the Pacific amounted to US$218.2 billion in 2004, which was 10.9 percent higher than the previous year.
At the same time, agricultural commodity imports amounted to US$231.8 billion, which represented an increase of 15.6 percent.
The balance of trade in agricultural commodities was therefore in deficit by US$13.6 billion in 2004, three times the deficit of 2003.
Natural resources and environment
The region's natural resources are under heavy degradation because of greater pressure and competition resulting essentially from population growth and urbanization. The industrialization of agriculture and livestock production is causing serious pollution of water resources. Irrigation is suffering the consequences of poor management and maintenance, especially of drainage basins. More appropriate policies, regulations and technologies need to be adopted, and strategic investment is required to modernize irrigation and drainage systems and to build regional capacity in order to create more productive and sustainable systems.
Natural disasters and transboundary diseases
Natural disasters, such as droughts and floods, highly pathogenic avian influenza, tsunamis and earthquakes, continue to threaten farmer livelihoods. In order to deal with transboundary pests and animal diseases, the international community and governments must invest in preventive measures, early warning systems, surveillance with reinforced capacity and the latest scientific information.
FAO's work since February 2004, during the recent avian influenza epidemic, has helped put in place regional surveillance networks to improve diagnosis and the timeliness and transparency of reporting of outbreaks of avian influenza. A Global Strategy for the Progressive Control of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza has been established by FAO and the OIE, in collaboration with the WHO, with a specific medium- and long-term plan for the restructuring of the poultry sector. As regards the tsunami and the earthquake in Pakistan, emergency relief has progressed very rapidly and FAO has already distributed US$34 million to the victims. However, much remains to be done to move from relief to reconstruction and to the sustainable development programmes that will require five to ten years of effort.
Structural changes and decentralization
Many governments have launched decentralization programmes aimed at providing local communities and administrative units with the means to manage their own affairs, in a framework of participation.
The decentralization of governance shows promising results for achievement of the critical objectives of rural development. It fosters the planning and implementation of programmes and activities at local level and improves access to vital services and to employment.
Regrettably, some programmes have run into challenges that have caused major setbacks. Discrepancies continue to exist between policy, planning and implementation.
Agenda of the Regional Conference
The Regional Conference will be examining a number of key issues:
The general agricultural environment is evolving rapidly, especially under the impact of major internal structural changes implemented in many countries of the region, particularly the very large economies such as China and India. Appropriate policies and strategic responses will be needed to help the agricultural and rural sector rise to the challenges and exploit the opportunities opened by trade liberalization, investment and globalization, and to mobilize regional cooperation and integration for achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.
The Asia and the Pacific region is prone to a wide range of natural disasters. As guided by the Hyogo Framework for Action, FAO will take every possible step to reduce the risks of disaster, to enhance early warning systems, to create a culture of safety based on knowledge, innovation and education, to reduce underlying risk factors and to strengthen preparedness.
The Conference will be examining a report on FAO activities in the region, with a focus on achievement of the objective of the World Food Summit and the Millennium Development Goals and on actions taken on the recommendations of the Twenty-seventh Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific.
The Ministerial Round Table is a new initiative that aims to give Ministers attending this Conference a forum in which to informally discuss and agree the best way to meet the challenges and seize the opportunities of trade liberalization and increasing world interdependence.
The outcome of the Thirty-third Conference of FAO
The Thirty-third Conference of FAO, which took place in Rome in November 2005, adopted a budget of US$765.7 million for the 2006-2007 biennium, which represents zero nominal growth plus security expenditure and US$6 million for priority programmes. The Conference also examined my proposals for reform of the Organization. Among other aspects, it approved a number of changes to the organizational structure at Headquarters from 1 January 2006, together with implementation of the decentralization proposals in one region and the opening of one new subregional office. I have decided to start this exercise with the Africa region and the Central Asia subregion.
FAO will also have to raise some US$15 million from voluntary contributions to cover the transition costs of reform.
The Programme of Work and Budget 2006-2007 accommodates these initial changes in the organizational structure of Headquarters and the decentralized offices, and places special emphasis on the dissemination of knowledge and the building of capacity in developing countries.
Main challenges and priorities for the future
The document A vision for the twenty-first century explains the necessary reforms proposed at this turning point in the life of the Organization. The intention, going beyond the preliminary decisions of the Conference of FAO, is to achieve coherent reform in the different regions of the world, so that the Organization is better able to respond to the needs of its Members, to the transformation taking place in the United Nations system and to the changing international environment.
Given the events of recent years, it is obvious that the handling of natural disasters will be a key challenge for the region in the years ahead. FAO is striving to increase preparedness and cooperation and, as a knowledge organization, is providing expertise to ensure that actions taken are based on the latest available scientific knowledge. It is currently providing technical and operational assistance to help determine the epidemiology of avian influenza in order to control the disease at its source – the animal – in order to avert a major human pandemic and socio-economic disaster. FAO is working with countries and regional organizations to put regional networks in place and to strengthen their veterinary services, and to improve surveillance and local practices on farms and markets in order to implement biosecurity measures for the prevention and eradication of the disease. So far, more than US$32 million have been requested for this region, including US$5.6 million from FAO's TCP funds for the avian influenza crisis. Furthermore, through implementation of a US$61 million emergency assistance programme for the victims of the tsunami, FAO's technical assistance and know-how are making an important contribution to the recovery of rural and fisheries livelihoods.
It is truly a challenge to constantly increase agricultural production to meet the demands of an ever growing population without undermining the viability of the natural resource base upon which that production depends. Forests are cleared, capture fisheries are depleted, arsenic infiltrates groundwater and threatens people's health and fertilizer runoff creates dead zones in water bodies. Such trends must be curbed if we are to assure the sustainability of agriculture in the region for ourselves, for our children and our children’s children. Science, technology and capacity building have a crucial role to play in meeting this challenge.
FAO is helping to resolve these problems in many ways, but I should like to draw your attention to our role in facilitating South-South cooperation and the exchange of agricultural experts and technicians between developing countries. These experts know what it is like to live in difficult conditions and can thus provide effective solutions to the many problems by imparting information and good practices. I am especially proud that the leaders of China and India have recently decided to provide several thousand experts and technicians, and to form a strategic alliance with FAO for South-South cooperation in order to eradicate hunger from the world within ten years. I hope that other countries of the region, and of the entire world, will join us in this endeavour.
Another key challenge facing the region is the liberalization of trade in agricultural commodities and its impact on food security and the alleviation of poverty. The meetings that took place in Hong Kong served to make progress in the agricultural sector, notably agreement on a specific date – 2013 – by which to put an end to export subsidies. While other activities will be needed to turn the Doha Round into a genuine development programme, advances in technology and bilateral agreements mean that trade will continue to grow regardless of the outcome of future negotiations. At the Ministerial Round Table, you will be explaining to FAO the policies that have worked for your countries in trying to draw maximum benefit from the two-edged sword that is trade liberalization. I sincerely hope that you will be willing to share your knowledge with others, as a way of further reinforcing South-South cooperation.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Only nine years separate us from 2015, the date by which the world's leaders pledged to halve hunger and extreme poverty. Despite this commitment, the state of hunger and malnutrition in the world remains as distressing as in 1996, when the World Food Summit was held. At this half-way stage, it now seems that unless we redouble our efforts in the next years, our objective will not be attained until 2150.
Studies in the region have shown that, dollar for dollar, agricultural research has been one of the most effective investments made by governments to reduce poverty in both rural and urban areas, and that agricultural growth in Asia is more pro-poor than growth in all the other sectors. The importance of agriculture to the macroeconomy and to the poor clearly indicates that investment in agriculture needs to be accelerated and strengthened.
I am confident that this Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific will be able to guide us towards the promotion of agricultural and rural development and the realization of food security in the region.
I wish you every success in your work and thank you for your kind attention.