In the ESCAP region, out of a population of over 3 billion, more than 800 million people still live on less than one dollar a day. Seventy per cent of the poor live and work in rural areas. In most developing countries in the region, the agricultural sector still employs three quarters of the labour force in rural areas. Even though the share of agriculture in many countries’ GDP is steadily declining, it retains a disproportionally high share of employment. It is also still the primary source of employment for women in most developing countries.
A common problem is that a number of countries experience stalling or declining productivity levels in conventional agriculture. The degradation of natural resources is one factor that is posing a serious challenge to the productivity of the agricultural sector. In light of this, ESCAP has been providing regional forums for the exchange of experiences relating to good practices and technical assistance in sustainable agriculture for many years.
Now, for the first time, ESCAP, as a regional intergovernmental body, is drawing attention to the rapidly developing organic farming sector in Asia. On the request of member governments, we have been following global developments and examining the status of organic agriculture in selected developing countries in the region. We have looked at concepts and practices, export potential, market developments and, first and foremost, success cases where small and marginal farmers in the rural areas were able to increase their livelihood through organic agriculture.
This publication presents the results of this undertaking. A comprehensive global and regional overview study is followed by country reports on China, India, Malaysia, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea, Sri Lanka and Thailand. All reports contain a number of success cases, real life examples of how organic farming has been a valid strategy to better the life of poor farming families, albeit on a small scale. The outcome of a lively and intensive regional workshop held in November 2001 is also presented in this publication. Recommendations put forward by the workshop participants are well worth studying in closer detail. They indicate the great challenges and path ahead in further developing the potential of the organic sector to improve the lives of the rural poor in Asia. We hope that, with this publication, we will be able to disseminate more widely the positive interrelationship between improvement in rural livelihoods and organic farming.