(EnergyAsia, May 30) — Trade, natural disasters and the cultivation of crops as fuel were discussed at a recent Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) meeting in Indonesia.


Despite rapid economic growth in the region, rural poverty persist in the Asia Pacific, and progress will need to accelerate rapidly to meet the target of reducing malnutrition by half by 2015, an FAO statement said.


Asia has made tremendous progress in agricultural production and food security during the past 40 years. The caloric intake of the poor has increased, and the incidence of underweight, stunting and wasting has decreased.


“But we cannot take this past success for granted. We must build on it in order to meet the many challenges confronting us,” said He Changchui, FAO assistant director-general at the meeting of senior government officials.


“Achieving the World Food Summit and UN Millennium Development Goals is the biggest challenge to all of us,” he said.


The agricultural economies of the AsiaÐPacific are becoming more integrated with the rest of the world.

Bilateral and subregional trade agreements continue to expand. An increasing share of agricultural exports and imports are destined for, or sourced from, other countries in the region.


“The importance of agriculture to the macro economy, the labour force Ð and the poor in particular Ð suggests that investment in agriculture should continue,” said Anton Apriyantono, the Indonesian minister for agriculture.


FAO noted that not all developments over the last two years have been for the better.


“Twelve Asia-Pacific countries have faced food emergencies, many of them due to natural disasters,” said Mr He.


FAO points in particular to the unprecedented devastating tsunami and the continued spread of avian influenza in addition to the usual floods, droughts, landslides and forest fires. There is also cause for concern in many areas of natural resource management: overfishing, illegal logging, and industrial livestock production causing pollution in urban areas.


Competition for water with industrial and household uses is becoming more intense. Agricultural water resources must be managed more efficiently in order to respond to the changing needs of farmers, the FAO statement said.


With two-thirds of the world’s 850 million severely undernourished people, the Asia-Pacific region is the focus of the 1996 FAO World Food Summit’s goal of reducing global hunger by half by the year 2015.


Central to rural poverty alleviation in the region, other substantial agenda items for the meeting are adjustment and restructuring in major Asian economies and the implications for food security and poverty in the rest of Asia; reducing vulnerability to natural disasters; transboundary animal diseases and bird flu; bioenergy and pesticides.