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FAO calls for redoubling efforts and investments to overcome malnutrition in Asia and the Pacific

by the Fish Site Editor
22 May 2006, at 1:00am

ASIA - Although agricultural growth in Asia is more pro-poor than growth in all the other sectors, with 35 percent of the world's undernourished population residing in South Asia, the prevalence of underweight, stunting and wasting is higher in this region than anywhere else in the world, FAO said today.

FAO calls for redoubling efforts and investments to overcome distressing levels of malnutrition in Asia and the Pacific - ASIA - Although agricultural growth in Asia is more pro-poor than growth in all the other sectors, with 35 percent of the world's undernourished population residing in South Asia, the prevalence of underweight, stunting and wasting is higher in this region than anywhere else in the world, FAO said today. FAO

Hunger in the region fell by 41 million over the last 10 years, yet some 552 million people are still undernourished in the developing and transition economies of Asia and the Pacific, said Jacques Diouf, FAOs director-general during his policy address to the plenary meeting of the 28th FAO regional conference for Asia and the Pacific.

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. Education and the change in status of women have contributed significantly to reducing child malnutrition, FAO said. The importance of agriculture to the macroeconomy and to the poor clearly indicates that investment in agriculture needs to be accelerated and strengthened, declared Dr Diouf.

Production

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.

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 regions marine resources.

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.

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.

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.

Challenges

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, FAO said.

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. Science, technology and capacity building have a crucial role to play in meeting this challenge.

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.

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, concluded Dr Diouf.

Today President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia inaugurated the opening ceremony of the FAO conference in Jakarta attended by ministers and senior government officials of 30 Asia-Pacific countries and a large number of international organizations and NGOs/CSOs as observers.

Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) - 20th May 2006

the Fish Site Editor