China-ESCAP Cooperation: Promoting Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture

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

ESCAP and the Ministry of Agriculture

24 August 2009, Beijing, China

H.E. Mr. Niu Dun, Vice Minister of Agriculture,


Ladies and Gentlemen,


It’s a joy for me to attend today’s ceremony. This occasion represents a benchmark in the three decades of cooperation between China and ESCAP. It is an opportunity to re-affirm our agreement to work together to address challenges of food insecurity in the region and to re-invest our efforts with a new sense of vigor and purpose. Today’s event is also an acknowledgement of the need for greater South-South cooperation and the transfer of technologies when responding to these challenges. ESCAP and our partner UN agencies are committed to supporting this process.

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.

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. Without income, poor people cannot purchase enough food to meet their basic health 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.

2. Lower Farm Revenues

The second cause of food insecurity is lower farm revenues. Farmers are being asked to produce more crops at lower prices by the food industry. This requires major investments in machinery 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. Those farmers that can no longer afford to raise crops join the ranks of vulnerable whose food security is threatened.

3. Environmental Degradation and competition for resources

Environmental Degradation and competition for resources is the third cause of food security 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. Finally climate change threatens to significantly alter weather patterns for our region. While some areas will benefit, the overall impacts are projected to be adverse.

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. The resulting deterioration of infrastructure, wastes water, and lowers agricultural productivity. While the level of commercial research has increased over the same period; the development of genetically modified crops and livestock has raised additional concerns.

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.


Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Our region is responding to the current economic crisis with a range of fiscal stimulus packages, policy reforms and increased levels of development assistance. 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.

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

Increased government support of research into 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.

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 agricultural insurance, 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 forum that allows groups of diverse countries to share experiences and coordinate their development activities for greater regional impact through regional cooperation.

ESCAP is committed to supporting the implementation of the Bali Outcome Document by working with other UN agencies and Member States to strengthen national food security programmes, promote research and development on sustainable agriculture and promote regional cooperation when responding to food crises.

Earlier this year ESCAP launched the theme study entitled “Sustainable Agriculture & Food Security in the Asia Pacific”. It was a follow up to our 2008 Economic and Social Survey which showed that investment in agriculture has been steadily declining and that a lack of agricultural credit was driving farmers into increased indebtedness.

ESCAP’s regional institutions can work together with other UN agencies to facilitate South-South cooperation. UNAPCAEM can concentrate on developing technology for improving machinery for greater food production efficiency, CAPSA can conduct research on the development of seeds and cultivation technologies for secondary crops (sorghum, millets etc.), and APCTT can help transfer the technologies developed by training extension workers in Member States.

ESCAP’s work with Member States in forging agreements related to the establishment of the Asian Highway and the Trans Asian Railway Network will play a pivotal role in ensuring access to food in the region.

 In my recent visit to Myanmar I was able to travel to the dry zone where I spoke directly farmers and local officials. My discussions allowed me to develop a greater understanding of the challenges facing the agricultural economy of this area. ESCAP’s partnership with China will be able to provide strategic support to the launching of a regional programme for the development of agriculture in the dry zone of Myanmar. Its an example of South-South cooperation where regionally specific technologies can be made available to neighboring countries at a lower cost. ESCAP will be able to provide additional support through the services and expertise of the UNAPCAEM and CAPSA.

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 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 technical cooperation initiatives. These initiatives have played a catalytic role in assisting developing countries in Asia-Pacific to adopt new approaches and technologies for development.

I am personally very excited about the Ministry of Agriculture’s commitment to work with other member states of ESCAP and look forward to strengthening this relationship in the years ahead. South-South Cooperation holds the key to building upon the best of what our region has to offer. Let us leverage our strengths to create a more integrated and inclusive Asia Pacific – free from poverty, free from want and free from hunger.