As major importers under the globalized trade system, developing countries in the Asia-Pacific regions have
been urged by the United Nations to give new prominence to agriculture to strengthen food security and
spare farmers from suffering.
According to the newly released "Asia-Pacific Human Development Report 2006," cheap imports as a result
of opening up to agricultural trade have led to a sharp decline in domestic production of food staples in the
region, which has been a food exporter for many years.
Overall, the promise of quick profits is encouraging richer farmers and agribusinesses to move out of food
production towards the cultivation of more profitable commercial crops, noted the report, which was
commissioned by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
As a whole, developing countries in the region are expected to import about US$50 billion of food by 2030,
even though the report stressed that national security must be built on domestic food production.
However, only a few Asia-Pacific countries, among them Thailand and Viet Nam, are considered "natural
exporters" that can compete with developed countries on the global agricultural market.
The report was released globally yesterday. "The UNDP Regional Centre in Colombo" oversaw the
multinational team of experts from the region that developed "the Report, Trade on Human Terms:
Transforming Trade for Human Development in Asia and the Pacific."
"If, as a result of trade expansion, small-scale farmers are out-competed by imports but do not have access
to an alternative source of livelihood, human development as a whole will suffer," warned Hafiz A. Pasha,
United Nations Assistant Secretary-General and Regional Director of UNDP's Bureau for Asia and the
Trade expansion can damage poor farmers' interests by causing sharp declines in prices, increases in the
cost of inputs such as fertilizers, withdrawal of state services for irrigation or farm-to-market roads, or land
consolidation, among others.
To overcome this, the report urged that developing countries promote agricultural development through price
supports, affordable loans and other assistance, as well as by strengthening land reform.
It also recommended offering protection to poor producers by means of tariffs, price support or subsidies.
Policies not only need to ensure a consistent focus on agriculture, but also should promote solidarity among
developing countries while accommodating different national interests and priorities in a highly diverse
region, the report added.
Developing countries have opened up their agricultural trade far more than developed countries have. In
particular, the poorest countries have become especially dependent on the global food market for basic food
supply, said the report.
From 2006 onward, "Asia-Pacific Human Development Reports" will evolve into an annual series, and are
expected to provide continuing analysis of critical development issues relevant at both regional and country
levels, and offer the region a forum for furthering dialogues and structuring debates to support a pro-poor
Concern about the poorest
Imports in the world's Least Developed Countries (LDCs), which include the 14 poorest countries of Asia-
Pacific, stood at more than double their exports by the end of the 1990s and the trend is widening markedly,
said the report.
This is particularly worrisome because two-thirds of the world's 800 million food-insecure people reside in
be seen as an opportunity to correct inequalities in the world trade in agricultural products, particularly those
arising from rich countries' "determined and unfair" protectionism in favour of their own producers, the report
said. However, talks "are not heading in the right direction," it noted.
"A farmer from Asia-Pacific can compete with other farmers, but not with rich country's agricultural
subsidies," said Minh H. Pham, Regional Manager of the UNDP Regional Centre in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
The 14 Asia-Pacific LDCs are among the 50 countries identified worldwide as least developed. These
include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, Kiribati, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Maldives,
Myanmar, Nepal, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. Nearly all other LDCs are in
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