Despite decreases in hunger due to economic growth, millions in Asia remain malnourished and without direct action the situation could get worse.
The world has been witnessing an irrefutable reversal in the progress towards reducing hunger and malnutrition. Although Asia stands as an exception so far, the pace of reduction of hunger has slowed down in the region, indicating a similar reversal in the offing.
Demographic and economic transformations related to a shift in dietary preference away from cereals to meat, oils, fruits and vegetables are standing in the way of food security in the region. Climate change is also predicted to reduce yields and production, resulting in increased food prices which will, in turn, reduce consumption by the poor.
Due to the benefits of economic growth the number of undernourished people in Asia is falling, but economic growth is not enough to end hunger in the region. Under the current growth trend, the number of undernourished people in Asia’s developing countries will fall to 362 million. Even neutralizing climate change – which would bring the number down to 324 million by 2030 – would not be enough. The number of undernourished people in the region would still be higher than 5% of total population. This is higher than the goal put forward by the Food and Agriculture Organization, International Fund for Agricultural Development, and World Food Program. These numbers foretell a potential failure to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SDG 2) – ending hunger and malnutrition by 2030.
However, our research indicates that accomplishment of SDG 2 in developing countries in Asia and the Pacific is within the realm of possibility.
Our report analyzes the impacts of investments in agricultural research and development, improvement of water management, and infrastructure to reduce marketing costs and postharvest losses. The results indicate it is possible to achieve SDG 2 by reducing the number of food insecure people to below 5% of the total population by nearly doubling annual investments in these areas by 2030.
Based on simulation results, the report argues that an annual increase of investment in agricultural research and development by $1.31 billion will reduce the number of malnourished children by an additional 2.2 million in the developing countries examined. By region, reductions would be the highest in South Asia with 1.18 million, followed by East Asia with 0.37 million. This additional investment in agricultural research and development will also decrease the number of food insecure people by an additional 84 million. The reductions will be highest in South Asia with 36 million followed by East Asia with 29 million.
Increased investment in irrigation development and expansion along with improvement of water efficiency will also reduce the number of food insecure people in these developing countries. However, the impacts will be modest compared to the investment in agricultural research and development. This is because irrigation affects only a limited area of crops compared to research and development which also directly impacts livestock. An annual increase of investment in irrigation infrastructure by $7 billion and water efficiency by $13 billion will reduce the number of food insecure people by 28 million and reduce agricultural water use by 7% and thus making more water available for alternative uses.
Investments in rural infrastructure that facilitate transport, processing, storage and marketing of food also contribute to food security. The simulation results suggest that South Asia can reduce the number of food insecure people by 29 million by increasing annual investment in rural roads by about $2.4 billion, in rails by $0.5 billion, and in rural electricity by $1.71 billion. Similarly, East Asia can also reduce food insecure people by 22 million by increasing annual investment in these sectors by $4 billion, $0.8 billion and $2.8 billion respectively.
The developing countries in our study can reduce the number of food insecure people by 67 million through increasing annual investment in rural infrastructure by about $16 billion distributed over rural roads ($8 billion), rail ($2 billion), and rural electricity ($6 billion). These increases will also reduce the number of malnourished children by about 2 million.
A simultaneous increase of annual investment by $36.9 billion distributed over agricultural research and development ($1.3 billion), water management ($20 billion) and rural infrastructure ($15.8 billion) will reduce the number of food insecure people in the countries studied by another 3 million due to the interlinkage of multiplier effects of these subsector. As a result, total food insecure people in 2030 will be at 180 million, which will be 4.2% of the projected population.
However, some of the poor will benefit slowly, if at all, from these investments. Some of them will remain vulnerable to economic shocks to become food insecure again. These groups will need targeted income-generating measures and safety nets, at least during economic shocks.
This blog is based on topics discussed at the Rural Development and Food Security Forum 2019, held at ADB headquarters in Manila on 28 – 30 October 2019.