Asia and Latin America Pursue Mutual Learning and Cooperation
Lima — High-level policymakers, internationally recognized researchers, and development practitioners from Asia and Latin America are gathering here March 22-24 for unprecedented talks on accelerating economic growth and reducing hunger and poverty in both regions.
The conference, “Fostering Growth and Reducing Poverty and Hunger in Asia and Latin America: Opportunities for Mutual Learning and Cooperation,” is organized by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and Universidad del Pacífico. Its aim is to draw practical lessons that policymakers can use in confronting poverty, inequality, food insecurity, slowing growth, and lagging agricultural productivity in their regions.
“To the best of our knowledge, a conference of this scope—one that compares successes and challenges from the local to the national and regional levels—has not been held before,” said Maximo Torero, director of the Markets, Trade, and Institutions Division at IFPRI. “We hope it will result in enhanced expertise, a new culture of exchange, and a network that will serve both regions and perhaps other regions of the world.”
Asia and Latin America have made significant progress in economic development in recent decades, thanks in part to bold and innovative reforms. Poverty and malnutrition remain at unacceptably high levels, however, and global food and financial crises complicate the outlook.
“This conference comes at a crucial time,” said Shenggen Fan, director general of IFPRI. “The current financial crisis is forcing governments to come up with new strategies to sustain growth and reduce poverty and inequality in a much less favorable environment. This is the time when lessons from other regions and countries will be most valuable.”
Since 1970 Asia’s economy has grown faster than that of any other region. Growth rates have averaged 8 percent per year in East Asia and 5 percent per year in South Asia. The percentage of people living on less than US$ 1.25 a day fell from 79 percent in 1981 to 18 percent in 2005 in East Asia and from 59 percent to 40 percent in South Asia. The number of hungry people fell from 586 million in 1991 to 566 million in 2005, but rose to 642 million in 2009. Some 930 million Asians still live in poverty.
In Latin America the percentage of people living below the poverty line dropped from 12 percent in 1981 to 8 percent in 2005. Economic growth rates have averaged 3.4 percent per year since 1970. The number of hungry people fell from 52 million in 1996 to 45 million in 2005 but rose again to 53 million in 2009. More than 60 percent of the poor live in rural areas where growth is sluggish, assets are distributed unequally, and public investment and services are inadequate.
“Latin America can learn lessons from Asia’s experience in smallholder land reform, investment in infrastructure and agriculture, and regional trade,” said Torero. “Asia, in turn, can learn from Latin America’s experience with opening up trade within and beyond the region, privatizing public services, and improving access to markets for high-value agricultural products.”
“Asia, with its rapid economic expansion, population growth, and poverty levels, is generating huge demand for food and intense pressure on land and water,” said Ashok Gulati, director in Asia for IFPRI. “Latin America’s agricultural capacity and export orientation makes it a natural partner in trade as well as learning. Both regions can gain from each other.”
The two-day conference will examine, among other things, how the two regions:
- Handle economic crises and stimulate growth in the midst of global downturns.
- Govern exchange rates, trade, and financial transactions.
- Protect society’s most vulnerable members against hunger and poverty.
- Design and implement agricultural development strategies to boost food production and enhance the incomes of poor people.
“This conference allows policymakers, practitioners, and researchers to discuss how and why certain development policy innovations worked or did not work in Asia and Latin America,” said Fan. “There is tremendous potential for this kind of mutual learning to accelerate broad-based economic growth and catalyze further reductions in poverty and hunger.”