Chronic neglect of the agricultural sector in Asia and the Pacific is condemning 218 million people to continuing extreme poverty, and widening the gap between the region’s rich and poor, according to the Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2008, launched at multiple locations today throughout the region by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).
The Survey is ESCAP’s flagship publication. It examines the Asia-Pacific region’s key short- and medium-term prospects and challenges in macroeconomic and selected social areas, especially from the point of view of minimizing human suffering; be it from economic hardships or social inequality. In addition, the Survey explores critical long-term development issues relevant to all developing countries in the region. This year’s issue also marks the 60th anniversary of the Survey, first published in Shanghai in May 1948.
This year’s Survey, entitled “Sustaining Growth and Sharing Prosperity,” says 218 million – a third of the region’s poor, largely living in rural areas – could be lifted out of poverty by raising agricultural productivity. The Survey also calls for a comprehensive liberalization of global trade in agriculture, as this would take a further 48 million people out of poverty in the region.
ESCAP’s focus on the agricultural sector comes amid signs of rising food prices, pressured by soaring demand for biofuels. The Survey says that biofuels are not only hurting poor consumers in Asia and the Pacific through high food prices, but they are also failing to help the region's poor farmers who do not have the resources to adapt their land to the biofuel crops.
The Survey proposes a strategy to ensure agriculture is both economically and socially viable, contributing to efforts to eradicate poverty in the region and returns agriculture to its rightful place in reducing poverty and inequality.
Agriculture needs revitalization. This requires a market orientation with a focus on improving agricultural productivity. Also needed are reforms in land policies, connecting the rural poor to cities and markets, and making it easier for farmers to access loans and crop insurance. Along with this approach, diversification of skills should complement agricultural development – by empowering the poor, particularly women, improving skills to tap labour market opportunities and by promoting rural non-farm activities and regional growth centres.