Blog Poll: Food Security Priorities for Asia and the Pacific

A farmer with a basket of freshly picked chilis in India.
A farmer with a basket of freshly picked chilis in India.

By AKM Mahfuzuddin Ahmed

The results of our September blog survey show that the majority of respondents believe the best way to address food insecurity in the region is boosting the efficiency of the food production system to grow more with less.

In our September blog poll ahead of World Food Day on 16 October, we asked readers what they thought should be the priority to reduce food insecurity in Asia and the Pacific.

Hunger and poor nutrition are the two faces of the food security challenge that persist in Asia and the region despite being the world’s primary economic growth engine and its recent success in reducing poverty. The region remains home to the most number of hungry people in the world with 552 million, or two-thirds of the global hungry population. Most of those who are hungry are smallholder farmers in rural areas, where people depend on agriculture for their livelihood. 

At the same time, stunting among children below five years of age—a measure of chronic undernutrition among children—although drastically reduced remains a serious concern, notably in a few countries in South Asia where up to 50% of young children are stunted. On the supply side, climate change adds another challenge to the food security issue since Asia-Pacific is likely to see the biggest reductions in agricultural potential due to climate change.

The results of the survey show that the majority of respondents (44%) believe that the best way to address this food insecurity is by boosting the efficiency of the food production system to grow more with less. Certainly, efficiency-based production is a win-win proposition in responding to the food gap in a sustainable manner and in addressing climate change, environmental sustainability, risk management, and waste reduction concerns.

This means, for example, introducing higher-yielding, climate-resilient crops, improving irrigation and fertilizing techniques, and helping to improve warehousing and transport so less gets lost between farm and market.

As countries move from low- to middle-income status, agriculture needs to become more economically viable and profitable. There is enormous scope for the transition to agriculture as a business and not just for subsistence. However, exploiting and maximizing the business opportunities in agriculture will require aggregating large numbers of smallholder farm which dominate in the region, improving access for smallholder farmers and small and medium-sized agribusiness enterprises to finance, as well as increasing investments in improving market connectivity and value chain linkages to facilitate integration into food systems at the local, regional, and global levels.

Food security is intrinsic to three major global agenda. 

First is the recent UN Sustainable Development Summit in New York in September, which adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG2 to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture by 2030. The success of this extremely ambitious set of global objectives under more challenging conditions will require more sustained commitment and strategic response by all actors from government, development partners, multilateral development banks (MDBs), the private sector, and civil society than we did with the Millennium Development Goals.

Second is the Addis Ababa Action Agenda in Ethiopia in July, which recognized the critical role of in mobilizing investments for revitalized and sustainable agriculture in achieving food security and nutrition. ADB and other MDBs and the International Monetary Fund committed more than $400 billion in financing through 2018 and strengthen partnerships with the public and private sectors to meet the SDGs.

And third is the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference in Paris in November-December. COP21 aims to achieve a legally binding and international agreement for climate action during the post-2020 period to keep global warming below 2°C. Discussions will highlight the critical role of agriculture in improving the resilience of livelihoods and ecosystems to climate change and in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

ADB has committed $2 billion annually to meet the rising demand for nutritious, safe, and affordable food in Asia and the Pacific. We recognize the significant role of smallholder farmers, agribusinesses, connectivity, and value chains in advancing the food security agenda and will prioritize business solutions for sustainable and inclusive agriculture – not to forget the need for increased productivity and reduced food losses as well as enhanced food safety, quality and nutrition to meet the growing and evolving demands of the population, while ensuring the improved management and resilience of natural resources and ecosystems.