Excellency Mr. Chalermchai Sri-on, Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives of Thailand,
Mr. QU Dongyu, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization,
Mr. Jongjin Kim, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific,
Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
It is really a privilege and pleasure to have the opportunity to give the opening on this important and very timely Symposium on agrifood system transformations.
The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change as well as the war in Ukraine have again exposed the fragility of our global food systems. Tackling agrifood system transformations is now more urgent than ever.
As we discuss the paths to transformation, let’s keep three critical food system transformations in focus.
The first transformation is towards food security and nutrition for all. In our region, more than one in five people lives with moderate or severe food insecurity, and some two-thirds of the world’s food insecure are in our region, in Asia-Pacific. In several countries in the region, more than one in three people are food insecure. And the situation is worsening. The need to reach those furthest behind has never been more urgent – inequalities affect the access of millions of people to food.
Countries need to implement measures to address the social and economic barriers preventing access to healthy and affordable food, including through targeted social protection systems and refocused social safety programmes. More than half of the region’s population is currently completely unprotected against any contingency throughout their lives. Therefore, urgent need to scale up this social protection system.
The second transformation we need is one towards healthy and climate-friendly agro-ecosystems. Food systems account for around one-third of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and drive almost 90 per cent of global water stress and land-use related biodiversity loss.
Unsustainable production systems increase the risk of future pandemics and compromise human health and well-being. We require urgently a broad shift to “circularity,” climate-smart agriculture, sustainable mechanization and smart technologies towards increasing resource efficiency, and expanding the ability of farmers to adapt to changing climate and related threats.
The third point is that shared prosperity must be kept in focus. Smallholders provide some 80 per cent of the food supply in our region, but they face mounting challenges such as limited access to markets, finance, credit and water.
Sustainable production methods must be adapted to each terrain and crop; this transformation takes time. Farmers at the frontline of the food system take on tremendous risks on behalf of society, all of us.
Viable livelihoods and risk management must be prioritized in this change. We need innovative and inclusive financing mechanisms to enhance investments in agricultural and rural development as well as to improve access to financial services, including rural credits to fund small agri-businesses, especially for women.
The convergence of food and financial fiscal risks also shows that we must deepen our understanding of risk and system resilience. Threats are multiplying and evolving. We see that the ability to produce and access food may be compromised from one day to the next.
Food system risks are multidimensional, and risk pathways are not always apparent. Leveraging and strengthening regional and international partnerships and integration based on comparative advantage between countries enhances food system resilience.
Without any doubt, stronger, networked and inclusive multilateral action is essential to avoid widespread food shortages, a deeper climate crisis and a divided region that could see no country left behind.
The United Nations system in Asia and the Pacific will have to realign or respond to this urgent priority combined efforts towards sustainable consumption and production, providing healthy and safe nutritious food for all, and promoting equitable livelihoods for all to ensure this transition.
With regards to ESCAP, our support for multilateral action is increasingly focused on supporting food system transition in our region. We have partnered with FAO as well as others to prepare for the food systems summit last year.
Our policy advocacy on the health-environment nexus encompasses agrifood systems and is implemented in close collaboration with FAO, UNEP and WHO. Work is being initiated with the WFP on a risk assessment framework.
We provide member States with technical assistance on sustainable agricultural mechanization. We have our Regional Institute in Beijing hosted by the Government of China which is Centre for Sustainable Agricultural Mechanization (CSAM),
We also provide an intergovernmental platform for follow-up and review through its Asia Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development (APFSD). Through this platform, it can support regional follow-up to the implementation of country commitments made at the UN Food Systems Summit in collaboration with all UN entities.
In closing, I wish you a successful Symposium and looking forward to this forum’s outcomes.
Thank you very much.