Background and summary
The Asia region has emerged as a major player in global dairy production and consumption. Aggregate consumption gains in dairy products in Asia over the past decade have exceeded twice the annual global average. Recent OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook estimates that the demand for milk and milk products in the region will touch almost 320 million tonnes by the year 2021 (OECD-FAO, 2012).This means the region will need to increase milk availability by another 40 million tonnes within this decade. While dairy prices in 2008 had declined in line with other agricultural commodities, many of the factors prompting higher prices will likely underpin market fundamentals in the dairy sector over the medium term. These market conditions provide an attractive opportunity for developing Asian nations to further consolidate the gains by investing in measures to enhance productivity, quality and market access.
This growth in demand is happening at a time when concerns about resource scarcity, growing pressure on feed resources, climate change and the need for more equitable development are becoming more and more important. Farmers worldwide face the challenge of producing more food with fewer resources while also addressing climate change and impacts on ecosystems. The agriculture sector in general is under pressure to increase the efficiency of natural resource use to meet society’s growing food and environmental needs.
For the dairy sub-sector, this means that the economic agents along the entire dairy value chain must adopt technologies and management practices that facilitate integration of environmental health, economic profitability and social and economic equity goals. Further, it is imperative that the transition to a more sustainable path considers sustainability in its full complexity encompassing all its pillars—economic, ecological, and social. Partial solutions will not produce the desired results. For example, any efforts towards conservation that ignore the need for economic development, food security and livelihoods are unlikely to succeed.
Conversely, socio-economic development will not be sustainable if it does not maintain the ability of the ecosystem and society to adapt to short and long-term changes. This complexity necessitates consideration of sustainability as a societal issue and requires integrated efforts by a wide range of stakeholders to capitalize on the strength of dairy production systems in Asia and to minimize the potential negative impact of rapid growth in demand and supply of dairy products in the region.
It is also imperative that such efforts be realistic, equitable, and conscious of region’s ecological, socio-economic and cultural dimensions. To discuss and debate these issues, promote collaboration and knowledge exchange among relevant national and international agencies and to discover the ways of addressing future challenges, FAO, Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (FAO-RAP) together with Animal Production and Health Division (AGA) of FAO, the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock (GASL), Dairy Farming Promotion Organization of Thailand (DPO), Department of Livestock Development, Royal Thai Government, (DLD) and other partners, organized the Regional meeting ‘Dairy Asia—Towards Sustainability” in Bangkok on 21-23 May 2014. The meeting was attended by about 90 participants from over 20 countries comprising stakeholders from governments, national and international research agencies, civil society organizations, multilateral institutions, think tanks, private sector and regional and global networks. The meeting provided a platform to share experiences, debate issues of key concern, and provide guidance for the nature of required response in different countries and growth scenarios. The meeting was structured around three thematic areas—(i) Natural Resources and the Environment, (ii) Growing feed and fodder scarcity and the required response, and (iii) food security, rural livelihoods, public health and human nutrition. The chosen themes reflected the need for a multifaceted response to support sustainable growth of the Asian dairy sector.