"Countries need to step up their efforts to bring the fight against hunger back on track," Graziano da Silva said at the opening of FAO's Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific in Fiji.
While the region had recorded "remarkable progress" in reducing undernourishment over the last two decades, this has slowed down and the number of people suffering hunger has increased in some areas, especially Southeast Asia, Graziano da Silva said.
Out of the 815 million people that suffered from hunger in 2016, 490 million, or 60 percent, live in Asia and the Pacific.
However, the FAO Director-General stressed that the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG2)of Zero Hunger by 2030 remains within reach. "For that it is crucial to build the resilience of rural communities, particularly family farmers, where poverty and hunger are still concentrated."
Graziano da Silva highlighted the fact that achieving SDG2 is not only about the eradication of hunger, but also about eradication of all forms of malnutrition and that requires assisting poor family farmers, fisher folks and pastoralists adjust their production systems and practices. Graziano da Silva made the remarks while addressing the conference's Ministerial Round Table on Zero Hunger.
It is also essential that countries address the large number of economic, social and technical constraints faced by family farmers. The FAO Director-General also stressed that rapid economic growth (in the region) has not translated into higher incomes for rural communities. To tackle this situation social protection systems are very effective, and so are school feeding programmes where the produce is sourced locally from nearby family farmers.
Pacific Islands grapple with impacts of climate change, obesity epidemic
Small Island Developing States (SIDS), and especially the Pacific Islands, are the countries most vulnerable to climate change, Graziano da Silva said. Over the last 10 days alone, Fiji has been battered by cyclones Josie and Keni, and this is emblematic of how for the SIDS' adaptation to climate change and resilience to disasters is more than a vital condition to achieve sustainable development. "It is a matter of survival," the FAO Director-General said.
He also underscored that the Pacific Islands are grappling with another global problem: an epidemic of overweight and obesity.
"The situation in the Pacific Islands is alarming. We find here the highest rates of obesity in the world," he said. World Health Organization figures show that in some cases up to 90 percent of the islands' population is overweight.
With overconsumption of processed foods high in salt and sugars recognized as the major driver behind overweight and obesity, he pointed to the need for countries to stimulate healthy diets.
"National public policies are fundamental to promotenutrition as a public issue, it's everyone's responsibility and consumers must be aware of the benefits and detriments of what they are eating," Graziano da Silva said. "This involves nutrition education, awareness raising, as well as regulations on labelling and advertisements," he added.
In this regard the Global Action Programme (GAP) on Food Security and Nutrition represents a key instrument that global and regional policy processes will meet the needs and priorities of the SIDS.
"I call upon international and regional partners to work together with the SIDS to implement the GAP, and where possible contribute with financial and technical support," the FAO Director-General said.
FAO supports countries tap into the Green Climate Fund
Graziano da Silva invited countries to propose how FAO can best assist them in planning and implementing actions, as well as mobilizing financial support to build rural livelihood resilience.
FAO currently supports 12 projects in the region to tap into the Green Climate Fund a mechanism that helps developing countries' finance climate change efforts. In the Pacific sub-region FAO is developing five projects in the following countries: Cook Islands, Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu, Samoa and the Solomon Islands.
Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand, Zero Hunger Goodwill Ambassador
In a video message to conference, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand stressed the need for an holistic approach in eradicating hunger and malnutrition in all its forms and called for greater agricultural diversity. The Princess who is FAO Special Zero Hunger Goodwill Ambassador for Asia and the Pacific, said: "Over-reliance on few crops means we are not spending enough time and resources producing other more nutritious food such as milk, eggs, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. We must strive to diversify agriculture to create dietary diversity to ensure healthy diets and address malnutrition in all its forms," she added.