January 30, 2013 00:00 By Petchanet Pratruangkrai
Food security, malnutrition singled out
Thailand is well positioned to be an Asean leader in helping the region cope with the problems of food security and malnutrition – major factors slowing down regional development – during the run-up to the Asean Economic Community in 2015, an international meeting heard yesterday.
At the two-day Asean high-level consultative meeting on “Integrating Nutrition into Asean Food Security Framework and its Strategic Plan of Action for Food Security”, held at the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Bangkok, panellists shared the view that Thailand and Asean should concentrate on tackling food security and under-nutrition as a priority issue to promote sustainable economic growth.
Hiroyuki Konuma, assistant director-general of the FAO and regional representative for Asia and the Pacific, said Asean had been recognised for its rapid collective growth in gross domestic product of about 7-8 per cent a year. Moreover, regional integration has also shown a strong commitment towards continuous economic growth.
“However, the [dual] problem of poverty and people not being able to access quality foods remains the main hindrance to regional development. Therefore, the region needs to tie up cooperation in order to tackle food security and malnutrition, so that the gap between poor and medium [income] people can be narrowed,” Konuma said.
He said that Thailand as a leading regional country could help Asean to improve farm products and nutrition. Since this is a country based on agriculture, with advanced technology in farming and experienced human resources, it can help Asean share knowledge and develop the farm sector so as to ensure adequate supplies of food crops with high nutritional value.
According to the FAO, 870 million people around the world suffer from hunger, and 60 per cent of them are in Asia. In Southeast Asia, an estimated 70 million to 80 million people are considered to be living in hunger.
Asean needs to solve the hunger and poverty problems so that the region can ensure sustainable growth, he said.
Konuma said Thailand had been successful in tackling its own hunger problem, the percentage of people living in hunger having been halved to just 7 per cent of the population. However, the figure for both Laos and Cambodia remains quite high, at 18 per cent of the population. This should be reduced by half by 2020, the FAO official said.
Nirut Kunnawat, adviser to the science and technology minister, said Thailand – as a regional centre of farming, trading and logistics – could help Southeast Asia cope with food security and malnutrition.
He referred to the government’s project to develop the zoning of six key crops: rice, rubber, maize, sugar cane, cassava and oil palm.
Besides, under Asean connectivity, Thailand has urged a sharing of knowledge and technology, and is ready to exchange researchers and human resources in developing crops in other Asean countries, he said.
After this week’s meeting of Asean officials in Bangkok, the results will be assembled into an action plan for consideration at the Asean ministers’ meeting later this year.
The deputy prime minister of Cambodia, Yim Chhay Ly, said his country had set a target to reduce by half the number of people living in hunger by 2020.
To achieve improved food security and nutrition, it is necessary for Asean as a grouping and for every country to link the agricultural sector with other relevant sectors, in particular health, education and rural development, he said.
Yim Chhay Ly also called on Asean to implement and commit more to the political support of member states in improving food security and nutrition.
Asean also needs to compile a comprehensive and in-depth policy framework and strategy for food security and nutrition, which should be linked to agriculture and nutrition. It must work together to strengthen the mechanisms for coordinating Asean food security affairs, as well as build capacity and share experience and knowledge related to food security and nutrition, he added.