SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT OF RICE VITAL FOR ASEAN
JAKARTA (13 Jan 2004) – Indonesia’s Minister for Agriculture Dr. Bungaran Saragih, said increasing public awareness of the importance of rice to food security, better nutrition, poverty alleviation and livelihood improvement will promote sustainable development of this food source.
In a keynote address delivered by a representative at the launch of the International Year of Rice 2004 held at the ASEAN Secretariat today, Dr. Bungaran said environmental protection, climate change and water scarcity impact greatly on rice cultivation, apart from pests and diseases. He stressed that research and technology development can enhance rice production and agribusiness.
“It is important t recognize that besides being the staple food for a majority of the Asian population, for many centuries, rice has also coloured the beliefs, rituals and social gathering of these people,” said Dr. Bungaran.
“Rice cannot be separated from the livelihoods of most Indonesians. More than fifty percent of the population earn their life in rice fields and the rich cultural heritage of different ethnic groups in this country are based on rice.”
“We take rice for granted all the time,” said ASEAN Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong. “But when we are hungry, we realize how important this simple thing is all about.
“When you look at the ASEAN logo, it is actually 10 rice stalks,” he continued. “When we first started, there were only five rice stalks and then we added five more over the last decade because new member countries of Southeast Asia joined ASEAN. Hopefully, in the near future, we will have one or two more (members), so rice is very much a part of our world, our culture, our life. It has a symbolic and a practical value and the IYR will draw our attention to this important crop and to the farmers in all our agricultural communities.”
In Asia, more than two billion people obtain about 60 percent of their caloric intake from rice and its derived products, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
“Rice has a large influence on human nutrition and on the fight against hunger all over the world,” said the Mr. He Changchui, FAO’s Assistant Deputy Director-General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific.
“Although the share of agriculture in the GDP of ASEAN nations has been steadily declining to around 11.5 percent, the proportion of the economically active population in ASEAN dependent on agriculture is still over 50 percent,” Mr. He added.
“They plant and harvest food and agricultural products to meet spiraling needs of over three billion Asian people within less than a third of the world’s arable land.”
Thailand is the biggest rice exporter in ASEAN, producing 5 million tones a year, followed by Viet Nam which exports 1.8 million tonnes annually.
In most Asian countries, the average person consumes between 150 kg to 200 kg of rice a year. While the number of chronically undernourished people in ASEAN has dwindled rapidly between 1971 and 2002, the FAO noted that some 66 million people or 13 percent of the region’s population still go to bed hungry every day.
“The governments and civil society in Southeast Asia must fight against hunger and work together more closely so that the people of the region can escape the vicious cycle of poverty and insecurity. The commitment by ASEAN to the International Year of Rice will go a long way in meeting the challenge,” said Mr. He.
Representative of Indonesia’s Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Joko Budiono, Director-General of the Agency of Agricultural Research and Development launched the event together with the ASEAN Secretary-General H.E. Ong Keng Yong and the Assistant Director-General of Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Regional Office of Asia and the Pacific, H.E. Dr. He Changchui.
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