China-ESCAP Cooperation - Promoting Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture Through Technology Transfers and South South Cooperation

H.E. Mr. Niu Dun, Vice Minister of Agriculture,
Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Introduction
It’s a joy for me to attend today’s event. China and ESCAP have had three decades of cooperation. This occasion is an opportunity to re-affirm our partnership to work together to achieve food security and sustainable agriculture, especially given the challenges of climate change and the financial-economic crisis.. Today’s event is also an acknowledgement of the need for greater regional South-South cooperation and the development and transfer of technologies when responding to these challenges. Our challenge is to invest in agricultural productivity for food security while protecting the environment. ESCAP and our partner UN agencies are committed to supporting this process.

We are pleased to have APCAEM in Beijing and are strengthening it as the centre of excellence for the promotion of food security and sustainable agriculture through technology development and transfer in order to close the technology gap among countries in our region including post harvest, transport and storage technologies.

I’d like to begin by reviewing the challenges to food security in our region, then highlight some of the opportunities provided by South-South cooperation and technology transfers for addressing these issues.

Challenges To Food Security

Despite our regions’ enormous capacity to produce food, we are home to the largest number of food insecure people in the world. More than 64 percent of the worlds’ undernourished adults and children live here and every year 1.9 million children under the age of 5 die of malnutrition. ESCAP has identified 25 countries considered to be hotspots for food insecurity in the Asia Pacific. For millions of people who go hungry every day, the food crisis was already there even before the current economic crisis hit the region.

A number of trends will only increase our food insecurity over time. Our region’s population continues to increase, while the growth rate for food productivity is declining. At some point the demand will start to exceed the supply, causing a serious food crisis.

ESCAP’s Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security report launched earlier this year identifies 6 causes of food insecurity.

1. Poverty

Over the short term, our region’s biggest challenge is improving poor people’s access to food. Food security is not a matter of food production; it is also a matter of income security. Without income, poor people cannot purchase enough food to meet their basic needs. Lack of access to clean water and sanitation can lead to infection, which reduces the bodies’ ability to absorb nutrients. Without access to land, poor people cannot grow their own food. As the world struggles to recover from the current economic crisis, food prices remain high while jobs disappear and incomes decline. For millions of people across the region the economic crisis is a food crisis as the financial and economic crises have led to serious loss of income for millions of families.

2. Lower Farm Profits & Revenues

The second cause of food insecurity is lower farm profits and revenues. Farmers are being asked to produce more crops at lower prices by the food industry. This requires major investments in machinery/technology which has squeezed out many small scale operators. Exploitative intermediaries can also lower farm profits by providing lower prices than available to farmers making direct sales to markets. The resulting risk is a loss of farming capacities in the region. Our role is to support our small farmers as we increase agricultural productivity. Those farmers that can no longer afford to raise crops join the ranks of vulnerable whose food security is threatened

3. Environmental Degradation, Climate Change and competition for resources

Environmental Degradation, climate change and competition for resources is the third cause of food insecurity in the Asia Pacific. Three major factors contribute. The first, ironically, comes from agriculture itself. Destructive farming practices have degraded land and contaminated waterways with pesticides and herbicides. Secondly, deforestation threatens watershed protection, disrupts fisheries and reduces essential services like pollination from these ecosystems including rainfall patterns and more severe storms with implications for our agricultural systems. In other words, the ecological basis for food production in Asia Pacific is under threat in many places. Finally climate change threatens to significantly alter weather patterns for our region.

Resource competition further threatens the future of farming. Agriculture traditionally accounts for 70 percent of water withdrawals in the region. Increasingly urbanization competes for this limited and precious resource. By 2030 approximately 54.5% of our regions’ people are projected to live in urban areas. This rate of increase is the equivalent to adding a new town of 109,589 people every day to the region for the next 21 years. As a result, legitimate but competing interests over water use are increasingly leading to tensions and conflict between cities and their hinterlands.

4. Protectionist Trade Policies

Protectionist trade policies are the fourth cause of food insecurity. In general developed countries have generally protected and subsidized local farmers, encouraging over-production. This has resulted in flooding the market with low priced food commodities, which hurts farmers in developing countries.

5. Declining Government Investment in Agricultural Research and Development

Over the past several decades, with declining food prices, there has been little government research or investment in sustainable agricultural practices. Investment in irrigation infrastructure has also fallen significantly over the past two decades. Technology inefficiency in agricultural production, post harvest, milling and storage; lack of adequate agricultural credit have made it difficult for farmers. The weak infrastructure results in inefficient usage of water, and lowers agricultural productivity and increased rural debt.

6. Volatile Fuel Prices And Speculation Can Amplify Food prices

The sixth cause of food insecurity stems from volatile fuel prices and speculation. High fuel prices adversely affect agriculture in several different ways. Natural gas is a principle input for fertilizers. Farmers also require fuel for farming and processing machinery. Crops require fuel for transport to markets and for storage. So when gas prices go up, so do the costs of production, transportation and storage of food. Speculation can further drive up food prices when markets are volatile.

Opportunities

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

There was an announcement by the G-8 to invest $20 billion dollars to improve food security. Our region is responding to the current economic crisis with a range of fiscal stimulus packages, policy reforms and increased levels of development assistance. For instance, China’s fiscal stimulus packages invests significantly in rural infrastructure. These measures provide an opportunity to establish pro-poor food security systems based upon the principles of sustainable agriculture. South-South cooperation and technology transfers can leverage our collective strengths to bring far more resources to bear upon the challenges to food security in our region. We need to increase agricultural income by reducing cost of production.

Promoting Intra-Regional Trade

For instance, ASEAN+3 countries have recently created a multilateral pool of foreign exchange reserves amounting to US$ 120 billion. With over four trillion dollars in foreign exchange reserves our region now has the resources to invest in regional infrastructure development. In this regard, food access for many developing countries could be improved through the development of intra-regional rail and highway networks.

Increased Government Support For Sustainable Agricultural Technologies

Our challenge is to invest in agricultural research and technology that increases food security while protecting the environment. Increased government support of research for sustainable agriculture is an important building block for regional food security. Significant technological improvements in food production are going to be required if the growing needs of the Asia Pacific region are to be met. Climate change is projected to make significant changes to the conditions for growing crops around the region. Adaptive technologies will be essential for mitigating the worst of these impacts.

While some countries will be able to afford to make the necessary investments in research and development, far more can be done if countries work together to share resources and knowledge. For instance, China is a regional leader in eco-farming and is a major exporter of organic food. Transferring relevant technologies and knowhow will play a key role in responding to our regions’ food security challenges in a sustainable way.

Pro-Poor Agricultural Measures At The National Level

A range of measures need to be taken at the national level to promote pro-poor food security systems based upon the principles of sustainable agriculture. Much can be learned if Member States are willing share experiences and good practice through regional level dialogue. For instance:

Developing the foundations for social protection needs to be seen by countries as an economic investment rather than a social cost. By increasing income security, the spending propensity of middle and lower income people who drive the economy is automatically triggered. There are several ways in which governments can help improve the income security of the rural poor, including farmers. These include the provision of adequate agricultural insurance, credit, basing food distribution systems on locally produced foods and providing rural works programs.

Ensuring that small scale farmers have access to credit is also vital to sustaining their operations. Micro-credit is a lifeline for farmers in the region. Some countries have taken steps in fiscal stimulus packages to protect and increase funding to these institutions. But more needs to be done. Monetary authorities need to make sure that (i) state owned banks provide uninterrupted financing for micro-credit schemes and institutions; and (ii) commercial banks that receive liquidity support from Central Banks maintain present levels of funding for micro-credit and agricultural credit.

Significant re-investments in agricultural infrastructure would increase efficiencies and productivity of farm operations in the region. It will also reduce the waste of water from ageing irrigation infrastructure. The rules, institutions and power relationships determining who can access irrigation systems can have an equally strong bearing on related water security issues. Ensuring the poor and most vulnerable have sufficient access to water for agricultural purposes will go a long way towards addressing their food security needs.

Deploying IT infrastructure and services to remote rural communities can provide farmers with access to good practice, distance education, and health services. These technologies will provide farmers with access to market information that will help them determine where and when to sell. Public private partnerships have significant potential to catalyze efforts in this area, as does South-South cooperation.

ESCAP’s Role

ESCAP, as the regional arm of the United Nations, provides the regional forum that allows the most comprehensive groups of diverse countries to share experiences and coordinate their development activities for greater impact through regional cooperation. The time has come to have a more coordinated, comprehensive and supportive approach to investing in the region’s agricultural and rural economy to ensure sustainable agriculture for our people.

In Closing
Asian economies are projected to be the locus for global economic growth in 2009. We now have the chance to create a new paradigm for sustainable and inclusive growth. Agriculture is the main livelihood of the poor; providing employment for 60% of the working population in Asia and the Pacific. If future economic development is to be sustainable and inclusive, significant investments are required by governments to promote the development of pro-poor sustainable agricultural systems.

ESCAP values its partnership with China as a strategic pillar in promoting South-South Cooperation and technology transfers regionally. Over the past three decades, China has provided support for a wide range of key technological cooperation initiatives. These initiatives have played a catalytic role in assisting developing countries in Asia-Pacific to adopt new approaches and technologies for development.

Thank you for your statement outlining ways of taking our partnership further. China and APCAEM’s partnering can work to promote the transfer of technology to enhance the productivity and sustainability of food production and post-harvest agro-processing, and serve as a node for regional promotion of sustainable agriculture. We need pro-poor food security systems based upon a principle of sustainable agriculture

In closing, let me once again state that our goal is to prevent hunger and reduce poverty, to improve nutrition and the well-being of our people, to put our region on the path of shared prosperity, sound progress and economic sustainability. Let us work in partnership.

I Thank You