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Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Important Agricultural Research Topics in Southeast Asia

The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Research Council of Japan has decided to formulate “International Research Strategies” in addition to the present “Guidelines”. The strategies, firstly clarify recent movements surrounding international research and then present important research topics to be tackled with and the cross cutting policies for promoting international research, mainly for those developing countries that are important to Japan’s international research.

There are recent movements surrounding international research.

1. Changes in global food supplies and their impact on Japan

In recent year, international prices of grain and other farm products have increased sharply against the background of greater demand for feed grains as increasing population and economic growth of developing countries with large population such as China and India and of the conflicts between foods and bio-fuels. Moreover, in the situation where investment fund is flowing in agricultural markets, financial markets influence grain market, and international food prices tend to fluctuate rapidly. This situation threatens food security in those developing countries heavily relying their foods on international food markets.

2. Emerging global warming

Forests and farmland have functions to absorb and store atmospheric CO2, a major cause of global warming. They thus play important roles in preventing global warming. From 2000 to 2005, the world’s forests, however, suffered a net loss of 0.73 million hectares on average per year, which is equivalent to 20% of Japan’s land. This reduction may further aggravate global warming and other environmental problems. Actions to combat global warming by controlling deforestation in developing countries are drawn worldwide attention. In order to realize this, discussion among countries has set out concerning technical and methodological approaches.

3. Expanding international cooperation to secure safety and protect lives

In Japan and other developed countries, public concerns are growing about food quality and safety, as well as supplying food in quality. On other hand, there are many developing countries to be produce agricultural products, still focusing on the quantity. Responding quickly and adequately to these concerns, it is important to enhance quarantine and epidemic prevention schemes, based on latest scientific knowledge and by collecting overseas information. It is also necessary to tackle with these issues in a series of processes, from production to processing, distribution and consumption, through international cooperation and information exchange.

In Southeast Asia, while highly profitable agricultural activities are being carried out along with economic growth, there remains traditional farming under rain-fed condition in some areas. This results in economic disparity between the former and the latter areas. Hence, improving food productivities and agricultural incomes in the latter areas remains an essential challenge to be address in the region.

In recent years, resource crops and unused biomass resources for bio-fuels (e.g. felled oil palm trunks and wasted cassava pulp) and bio-plastics have been drawn attention in Southeast Asia. Thus it is necessary to develop technologies for efficient energy conversion and new crop varieties. Moreover, CO2 emissions from deforestation in developing countries become global issues. Asia is an expected region with high possibilities of the reduction in CO2 emissions by controlling over deforestation.

There is a great risk of the outbreak of emerging zoonosis in developing countries, although the real situation about the infection to the people is not clear in these countries. As in the region there is anxiety about expanding infections of avian influenza virus and the outbreak of new strains of influenza virus, protecting against livestock diseases is yet another essential challenge to be addressed.

Key Priorities for Research

1. Promoting research for enhancing efficiency in water use, such as water-saving cultivation and the evaluation of the function in water collection and distribution by small irrigation facilities.

2. Developing high-yielding biomass crops and efficient energy conversion technologies in order to expand the production of bio-energy and biomaterials by utilizing unused local biomass resources, such as felled oil palm trunks and wasted cassava pulp.

3. Developing evaluation and forecasting techniques for sustainable agricultural and forestry systems contributing to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the depletion and degradation of forests in developing countries.

4. Promoting research for sophisticating anti-infection technologies, including those to expedite inspection for avian influenza virus and the development of influenza vaccine for poultry.

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