KATHMANDU, 15 May 2002 - Small
farmers are the region's main food producers, yet are
hungry themselves, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization
(FAO) told senior Asia-Pacific government officers meeting here
to discuss ways of boosting productivity and incomes of small
cultivators in their countries.
farm technology, institutional and policy support are keeping
small cultivators in the region from unleashing their full
productive capacities that can bring about big gains in
agricultural production and poverty reduction in Asia and the
Delegates from 28 countries in the
region gathered at FAO's 26th Regional Conference for Asia
and the Pacific (13-17 May 2002) to review the constraints to
empowering the rural poor.
the need to increase the productivity of small farmers who make
up the bulk of agricultural households in Asia and the Pacific.
The Asia-Pacific region is home to 75 percent of the
world's farm families and two-thirds of the 777 million
hungry people in the developing world. Three-fourths of the
region's undernourished people live in villages and depend
on agriculture, fisheries and related rural industries for their
Asia-Pacific countries will
have to step up agricultural production by 80 percent by the
year 2030 to meet the growing food needs in the region. But
there is very little room for expanding the area under farm
cultivation and most of this increase will have to be obtained
from improved farm yields. Most of the production gains will
have to come from small cultivators.
Contrary to general belief, farmers cultivating less
than 2 hectares of land account for a more than proportionate
share of national food grain and livestock production. Their
total output has increased even as that of large farms has
Yet small cultivators in the
region, were largely bypassed by the green revolution
technologies introduced on the country's farms in the 1960s
and 1970s. Subsequent years have seen persistent reductions in
public investment in agricultural research and infrastructure.
This is a major reason for the decline in agricultural
productivity since the 1990s, with latest estimates projecting
that during 2002-04, the growth rates in the index of total
agricultural production would fall below the annual population
Lasting reductions in rural
poverty and hunger are not possible without increases in
agricultural productivity. "Unleashing the potential
inherent in the vast majority of the rural poor who rely on
agriculture for employment and incomes can accelerate poverty
reduction. Productivity in agriculture is still low despite the
recent advances in technology," says an FAO paper.
It cites the example of Indian provinces
where substantial increases in farm yields between the late
1950s to the early 1990s resulted in faster rural poverty
reduction than in provinces with sluggish growth in farm
productivity. Agriculture-led rural economic growth has been the
main engine for the dramatic economic transformation in China
since the late 1970s. This in turn was stimulated by extensive
state support to agriculture research, infrastructure and
institutional reforms in agricultural markets.
The Asian economic crisis of the late 1990s has also
led to a 'rediscovery' of agriculture, which helped
absorb significant numbers of displaced urban workers.
An effective anti-hunger and anti-poverty
strategy for Asia-Pacific countries must ensure that rural poor
have access to basic agricultural production resources such as
land, water, farm technology, credit, other farm inputs and
markets. Addressing social imbalances and promoting human
resource development are also vital. The removal of inequities
along with access to public utilities, health, education and
other social services are essential prerequisites for
sustainable rural development.
Kathmandu conference is one of a series of FAO regional
conferences in preparation for the World Food Summit:
five years later (WFS: fyl) to be held in Rome from
10 to 13 June 2002.