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 September 15 2009
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Participants of the seminar, led by FFTC Director Jen-Chyuan Lee (second from left) visited the Hanaro Mart of the Bi-bong Agricultural Cooperative, Kyung-gi province, Korea.

SEOUL, KOREA - According to FAO (2009), "the combined effect of population growth, strong income growth, and urbanization is expected to result in almost the doubling of demand for food, feed and fibre" worldwide. In addition, global agriculture will have to cope with the growing scarcity of natural resources such as land, water and biodiversity, and the effects of climate change.

A prelude to this forecast was felt in 2007–2008, when dramatic increases in world food prices created a global crisis and caused political and economical instability in both poor and developed nations. The recent food crisis was said to have caused by changing weather patterns like unpredictable droughts in grain-producing nations, rising oil prices, increasing use of crops for biofuels, and a rising demand for a more varied diet across the expanding middle-class populations of Asia coupled with a declining world food stockpiles. Meanwhile, experts have identified the long-term causes of the instability and volatility in the prices of food products as: structural changes in trade and agricultural production; agricultural price supports and subsidies in developed nations; diversions of food commodities to high input foods and fuel; commodity market speculation; and climate change.

As of 2009, food prices have fallen significantly from their earlier highs, but experts believe this decrease may be temporary. Hence, FFTC in partnership with Korea’s National Agricultural Cooperative Federation (NACF) and Rural Development Administration (RDA), organized the international seminar on Agricultural and Food Policy Reforms: Food Security from the Perspectives of Asian Small-scale Farmers held in NACF, Seoul, Korea on 24-28 August 2009.

The seminar, attended by 11 resource speakers from seven Asian countries and about 30 local participants, deliberated on the diverse factors causing the instability and fluctuations in the prices of food products and farm inputs, with the intent to identify sound agricultural and food policy and strategies to mitigate the impact of the surge in prices on small-scale farmers and to attain sustainable food security in the region. The participants also reviewed the current situation, major issues and problems in food security and agricultural policy in Asia; government support and public investment to improve agricultural R&D and infrastructure; and scientific, farmer-based, and sustainable technologies to raise food production and improve the agricultural productivity of small-scale farmers.

Agricultural growth is the key to sustainable development and poverty reduction. Hence, in confronting the challenges of food security, agricultural development policy must be geared toward improving domestic food production toward self sufficiency/self-reliance, and to create a viable, sustainable, and healthy agricultural sector through the following policy reforms: Substantial public investments in rural infrastructure, services, training and extension, market and credit provision, and farmers’ organizations; Increased investment in agricultural R&D to ensure a continuing stream of new and appropriate technology for improved and efficient production and to help small-scale farmers to counter changes in weather patterns; Enhanced information and communication campaigns on appropriate farm and agri-business technologies and market information such as sources of inputs and prospective markets, price updates; and Promoting “multifunctionality of agriculture” to maintain a sustainable domestic agricultural sector.

Policy reforms to minimize barriers to trade in food and agricultural commodities and inputs among countries in the region were also recommended to achieve maximum efficiency in the use of global productive capacity, and maximum flexibility to adjust to shocks in supply and demand occurring in individual countries. Investment in comprehensive social safety net programs to reduce the risks of high food prices to poor people, and help prevent long-term negative consequences was also noted. Simultaneously, small-scale farmers must be given access to indispensable means of production inputs and technologies, such as high-quality seeds, fertilizers, feed and farming equipment/machineries to allow them improved and efficient production.

Stable and effective policies, regulatory and institutional mechanisms, and functional market infrastructures that promote investment in the agricultural sector must be given priority. Adoption of policy frameworks conducive to production and consumption decisions that make efficient use of natural resources, especially land and water, and provide incentives for future investment must also be pursued.

Finally, a critical consideration in agricultural and food policy reform is that majority of the region’s poor and food insecure live in the rural areas. Hence, a fight against food insecurity is also a fight against poverty in the rural areas where most of the poor live and depend on agriculture and rural off-farm activities for a living. Hence, a more rapid economic development in the rural poor areas of developing countries in the region must be pursued in order to eliminate the root cause of food insecurity – which is poverty.