FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

On World Food Day, FAO in Asia-Pacific celebrates gains made in reducing hunger but calls for expansion of social protection to break the cycle of rural poverty

16/10/2015 Bangkok, Thailand

This year’s World Food Day (16 October) is celebrated across Asia and the Pacific, buoyed by gains made in reducing hunger and poverty, but with a realization that 12 percent of the region’s population remain undernourished – and without access to social protection.

Almost 80 percent of the world’s poor live in rural areas, most of them working in the agriculture sector, often in small-holdings or for mere subsistence. When a natural disaster strikes, or a family member requires expensive health care, a rural family can face financial ruin.

This year’s World Food Day aims to raise awareness among FAO member countries and development partners that, in order to break the cycle of rural poverty, social protection must be extended to rural communities while, at the same time, improving agricultural infrastructures that will improve systems of food production that benefit all.

The Asia-Pacific Regional World Food Day Observance was held at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok, Thailand.

“In order to reach Zero Hunger and end rural poverty we need investment in agriculture. We need innovative and coordinated approaches,” said Kundhavi Kadiresan, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative, during her welcome remarks. “We need to give people in rural areas both the protection and the tools they need to build their confidence and improve their livelihoods. This is not about creating dependency. It is not a ‘hand out’ but a ‘hand up’.”

Kadiresan congratulated member countries in the region for managing to reduce poverty and the proportion of those suffering from hunger, down to 12 percent from 24 percent regionally since 1990. But she stressed the need for social protection to ensure the remaining 12 percent can find their way out of hunger and poverty, citing examples of developing and middle-income countries around the world that have successfully implemented social protection in rural areas. 

The gathering was further reminded what’s at stake for families that don't have access to social protection.

“Here in our region, we have seen the heartbreaking consequences of manmade and natural disasters that have disproportionately affected poor and rural families. During such times of crisis, and in the absence of formal and informal insurance, poor rural households may be forced to cope in ways that further increase their vulnerability,” said the Guest of Honour, Her Royal Highness Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand. “Many countries in our region, including Thailand, are increasingly recognizing that social protection measures are needed to relieve the immediate deprivation of people living in poverty, and to prevent others from falling into poverty when a crisis occurs.”

The keynote address was delivered by Khofifah Indar Parawansa, Minister for Social Affairs, Republic of Indonesia, on behalf of Puan Maharani, Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister of Human Development and Culture, in recognition of Indonesia’s successes in economic growth while, at the same time, extending social protection to its citizens. Just prior to the speech, the Minister was presented with a limited edition medal recognizing FAO’s 70th Anniversary.

“It takes commitment and efforts of all of us to be able to make the world more equitable and humane to build a better world, a world where everyone can live in an atmosphere of fraternity, a world where justice and prosperity prevail for everyone, a world in which humanity can achieve glory. This is what we hope will be the basis of our global commitment in the fight against poverty,” the Minister said.

The regional World Food Day observance also recognized the successes of individual farmers from People’s Republic of Bangladesh, Kingdom of Cambodia, Republic of Korea and Kingdom of Thailand. The two women and two men received individual awards for their hard work, perserverence and innovation in improving agricultural production and local livelihoods. Each of them also received an FAO 70th Anniversary medal.

The citations for each of the four are attached below.

CITATIONS:

Ms Rina Begum from the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Citation for a model farmer for success and leadership within a women’s crop cooperative

In 1971, the year Rina Begum was born, farming in Bangladesh was changing. When her grandfather farmed in their village of Hinganagar, they grew rice, a little wheat, a variety of pulses and a few other fruits and vegetables. But in her father’s day, farmers began growing just one strain of rice that was in demand. “At that time, we lost a lot of biodiversity,’’ she says.

The new way of farming raised incomes in the short term. But mono cropping soon sapped the soil of its nutrients. Farmers had to buy seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, and the foods they were no longer growing. Sometimes, the seeds they bought produced substandard crops. Rina’s village was becoming poorer and more vulnerable.

Rina inherited just under half a hectare from her father. When she married, she and her husband farmed, and she sowed saris, using the extra income for their two children’s educations. Today, they are both paramedics.

Rina also went through the lengthy process of registering her land. Never sell the land, she told her children. No matter what happens, you can always come back, grow your own food and survive. The land itself, for those fortunate enough to own it, can be a safety net in times of crisis.

In 2009, farming in Rina’s village began to change again. Rina and other women were encouraged to form a Women’s Common Interest Group by a government agricultural extension program. Rina was elected chairperson.

The group received trainings in seed production. It wasn’t easy at first, but before long their families no longer needed to buy seeds. Then they learned to make their own organic fertilizers and farm without pesticides. They diversified their crops and sold surplus seeds and vegetables. Under Rina’s guidance, the women started a savings program and put some of their profits in a savings fund.

Today, all the families are solvent. Their soil is rich and fertile once again. In many ways, they are self-sufficient. “Working hard pays dividends,” Rina says.

Although the program that helped start the Women’s Common Interest Group is slated to end this year, Rina is convinced that women’s groups will continue to multiply.

“When people pull together,” Rina says, “our problems don’t seem too difficult to solve.”

In Rina’s village, where families were once mired in poverty, women working in harmony are producing prosperity.

 

Mr Prom Vat from the Kingdom of Cambodia

Citation for a model farmer for success in aquaculture development

Few people have made as much from so little as Prom Vat of Cambodia. Born to a farming family in Takeo province in 1966, he was sent to live at a local Buddhist temple because there was no money for school. When he was just nine, Cambodia fell to the Khmer Rouge. Despite this turbulent and violent period, Prom Vat survived.

When it was over, he went back to his village near the Mekong River. But his family was gone. Prom Vat was alone in the world. Already a teenager, he enrolled in primary school. Penniless, he became a sharecropper, assiduously saving what he could. 

Prom Vat had no experience working the land, and older farmers weren’t willing to teach him. In a still traumatized society, there was little sense of community in what were once close-knit villages. Prom Vat married and started a family. But farming, and life in general, was hard.

Nonetheless, Prom Vat persevered. Because of his determination, the Ministry of Agriculture selected him to take part in a fisheries training course. They taught him how to build ponds and start a fish-feeding farm.

His first fish-feeding pond was successful enough that he was able to buy a small plot of land and then build a second one. And then another, and another. Today he owns 30 ponds stocked with ten varieties of fish and produces 100 tonnes of fish each year.

He’s also learned to breed fresh water prawns, and now he produces nearly half a million prawns annually.

But the government programs taught more than farming. To help society heal, the government stressed that, while farmers should help themselves, they should also help their communities and their country. And so Prom Vat teaches fish farming to anyone who asks.

“When I came back to my village many years ago, I had nothing. I was treated like an outcast. No one was willing to help me,” he says.

Now, Prom Vat teaches agricultural exchange students from several countries, including New Zealand and Japan. He refuses to take any fees. “All I want is friendship,’’ he says.

From virtually nothing, Prom Vat has built a successful business. But more importantly, he is helping to build a stronger society and a better world.

 

Mr Kim Won Seok, Republic of Korea

Citation for a model farmer for success in improving livelihoods and empowering local farmers

 

Born to a prosperous farming family near Iksan City in the Republic of Korea, Kim Won Seok had no interest in farming. He was fascinated with computers. So, with his parents’ support he studied computer science and landed a job in Seoul with LG CNS designing information technology for urban infrastructure.

But when Kim’s younger brother passed away, Kim’s mother asked him to help her run the family farm where they grew rice, wheat and barley. Kim tried to balance work in Seoul with helping his mother. “But I knew I was going to have to go back to farming,’’ he says.

When he did, he discovered many problems in his community. At the time, agricultural policy was geared to supporting individual farmers. And so the farmers had to compete. Some did well, but others struggled, especially poor farmers and older farmers.

From his work in Seoul, Kim had developed skills as an entrepreneur and a team builder. If farmers could work together, he believed, they would all do better. But he found that the farmers of Iksan didn’t trust city people.

Kim would not give up. From a reluctant returnee, he became a dedicated farmer and slowly built bonds with his neighbors. Finally, he convinced several to try shipping their produce as a group. When they saw how much they could save on shipping costs by working communally, their attitude changed.

Kim and 31 farmers formed a type of cooperative called a Deulnyeok Gyeongyeongche. There were only eight such cooperatives in the country.

Together, they saved money on equipment and raw materials, and marketed their crops more effectively. They helped older and poorer farmers by sharing equipment and labour. Most importantly, Kim says, they shared knowledge. They produced a manual on best practices, and the quality of their crops improved.

Witnessing the success of the Iksan cooperative, the government now encourages their formation. Today, there are 240 cooperatives with plans for 700 by 2020.

“Farming is a challenge in today’s society,” Kim says. “But it’s our heritage and it should be passed on to future generations.”

By fostering trust and cooperation, Kim and his fellow farmers have become wealthier. More importantly, they care for the more vulnerable members of their community. Whether they become farmers or not, those are valuable lessons for future generations.

 

Ms Pratin Nakmit, Kingdom of Thailand

Citation for a model farmer for success in expanding opportunities for women in farming

 

Pratin Nakmit, the chairperson of the Lam Sing Farm Women’s Group has never been a farmer or a farmer’s wife. Pratin, however, is a leader. And few have done more for farmers or women in Thailand’s southern Phattalung province than Pratin.

Pratin’s parents were farmers. They grew rubber and bananas in her village of South Lam Sing. Her grandfather, however, was a village headman, and he instilled in Pratin an ethos of working and sacrificing for the community, and especially the poor, the old and the vulnerable.

As a young girl, Pratin dreamed of attending university and becoming a nurse, but had no opportunity. Instead, her parents sent her to Bangkok where she worked as a dressmaker before returning home, marrying a policeman and raising three children while running a dressmaking business.

In 1997, the government began setting up women’s groups in farming communities to improve livelihoods. To Pratin’s surprise, the women in the Lam Sing group selected her as their chairperson because of her entrepreneurial skills and concern for others in the community.

Also in 1997, Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej unveiled his Sufficiency Theory, which seeks to make farmers more resilient through diversifying crops and livelihoods. Pratin paid close attention and believed its lessons could be applied in her group.

She convinced her group to process their raw bananas and tamarinds into chips, dried versions, oils and other value-added products. Then she branded and marketed them to chain stores as far away as Bangkok. She set up a Community Market Center where farmers sell directly to customers and keep more of their profits.

With more government trainings Pratin learned new ways to help her group. She started a savings program and revolving fund, which assists those in need and funds new businesses. Starting with just 15 members, the group now has 26 employed in its businesses and over 200 participating in its savings programme.

“I feel joy and happiness when I see my neighbors work together,’’ Pratin says. “To create jobs and help raise their standard of living makes me so proud.”

And Pratin has one more reason to be proud: she recently obtained her Bachelor’s Degree from a programme run jointly by Thai and American universities. Pratin Nakmit is living proof of what people can achieve for themselves and their community when they don’t give up on their dreams.

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