|In the recently concluded two-day 15th SAARC Summit in Colombo on 2-3August, 2008, the heads of state of SAARC countries arrived on a general consensus to increase the effort for food security, intra-regional cooperation in trade, and regional initiative to curb the terrorism activities in the region. The issue of food security is of great importance today given the global dimension of this problem. A special Colombo statement on food security declared that the leaders participating in the 15th SAARC summit have affirmed their resolve �to ensure region-wide food security and make South Asia, once again, the granary of the world�. Though, food security issue is a global concern, the lack of progress in multilateral negotiations, especially on agricultural commodities in the Doha Round adds to this global problem. But the lack of progress in Doha Round can be seen as blessing in disguise for South Asian countries, as it gives an opportunity to increase their intra-regional cooperation. This may eventually provide a regional solution to the food security problem. In the Colombo declaration, it was agreed that the SAARC Food Bank be urgently operationalized. While a food bank will help to solve the food availability problem, the issue of capacity building to improve the purchasing power of people would still need attention.
Developing the regional agro-value chain in South Asia can be seen as a solution to the capacity building dimension of the food security problem. An efficient and sustainable South Asian agro-value chain can be established with the free flow of goods and services in the region. Many studies on intra SAARC trade has concluded that major barrier to the free flow of goods and services in the region is tariff and non-tariff barriers to market access, and poor connectivity in the region i.e. underdevelopment of transport and communication infrastructure. Of the two barriers to market access, non tariff barriers, especially standards barrier is perceived to be a major impediment to intra regional trade. In the Colombo declaration, Heads of state of eight SAARC countries have agreed on the creation of a SAARC Regional Standard Organization that will harmonize quality standard. Successful implementation of this agreement would certainly help in greater market access to the SAARC member countries in the region. Poor transport and communication infrastructure is another major impediment to the free flow of goods and services in South Asia, especially land transport where performances are dismal. This needs to be improved so that seamless transportation is possible in South Asia. Efficient land transportation among South Asian countries will ensure that whenever there is technology or surplus, value chain can be created in any part of the region. Communication infrastructure i.e. availability and use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) is underdeveloped in the region, which is a vital ingredient of any value chain. In the Colombo declaration, an agreement to set up SAARC Development Fund (SDF), of initial corpus of $300 million has been reached upon. This can be used to improve the regional transport and communication infrastructure, especially ICTs.
South Asian regional integration of agro-value chain can offer a viable solution to the food security problem in the long run. It would eventually lead to inclusion and equitable integration of agro producers with small landholdings in the South Asian region in international agro-value chains and networks in the long run, ensuring the food security for small and marginalized farmers. Colombo declaration, if implemented in letter and spirit would eventually lead to South Asian agro value chain a foreseeable reality.
|SANJEET KUMAR RAI