Minding the Food Gap: Reinforcing the Link Between Inclusive Growth and Food Security

Eggplant harvest in Nepal.
Eggplant harvest in Nepal.

By Hyun H. Son

Success in tackling food insecurity is an important component of how inclusive an economy’s growth is. Unless the benefits of growth are equitably shared, access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food for all will remain a challenge.

Success in tackling food insecurity is an important component of how inclusive an economy’s growth is.

Unless the benefits of growth are equitably shared, access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food for all will remain a challenge. In Asia and the Pacific, some 550 million people still live on less than $1.25 a day despite the region’s rapid growth and dramatic gains in poverty reduction. The extreme poor may suffer from food insecurity and hunger. Feeding the poor is thus the paramount challenge that lies at the nexus of inclusive growth and food security.

With the global population projected to reach 9 billion in 2050—of whom more than half will reside in Asia and the Pacific—the increase is expected to occur in many developing countries, particularly in rural areas, where most of the poor live and depend directly or indirectly on agriculture for livelihood. Thus, investments in agricultural and rural development that consider all segments of the population are fundamental to promoting food security and propelling long-term inclusive growth.

Inclusive growth investments, either direct or indirect, must include a menu of interventions that creates and expands opportunities for everyone. They must, likewise, improve human capacities to broaden the poor’s access to participate in and benefit from these investments. Lastly, inclusive growth interventions should provide social safety nets to prevent extreme deprivation.

A number of direct interventions that strengthen the link between inclusive growth and food security could include the following.

First, investments in education and health that improve human capacities can broaden the poor’s employability and earning capacity. Through premium education and training systems, the poor can enhance their welfare through improved skills, and achieve higher average incomes over the long run— both of which are essential to food security and poverty reduction.

Second, adequate access of farmers to financial markets will improve agricultural productivity and output. This is a necessary component of food security strategies, as increased domestic agricultural outputs reduce import dependence and increase a country’s ability to deal with large swings in international prices that negatively impact the poor. Increasing farmers’ access to crop insurance and credit, and their participation in farm cooperatives can likewise help them deal with impacts of natural calamities and price shocks. Similarly, investments in transport infrastructure that link farmers to economic growth centers can rebuild local food systems. Enhancing the access of farmers to markets could translate to lower transport costs, increased incomes for farmers, and cheaper, locally produced, fresh, and nutritious food for poor urban consumers.

Finally, a bolder approach to climate change adaptation could provide farmers better extension and research services. These climate-smart services can inform them of innovative approaches in adapting to higher temperatures by adjusting their planting schedules. New cropping patterns, and new plant varieties that are more drought-resistant can also be introduced to farmers. With increased risk of water shortages, more investment in irrigation systems to avoid water wastage and promote efficient water use will be required.

These inclusive growth efforts are important, but indirectly impact the poor. As ADB’s Support for Inclusive Growth report suggests, long-term infrastructure investments on the supply side, such as rural transport, irrigation and water systems, render inadequate relief during food crises. More often, it is the demand side bottlenecks that impede the poor’s access to food when their purchasing power is eroded.

As rising food prices disproportionately affect the poor, who spend up to 60%-70% of their income on food, direct interventions such as safety nets can help improve the diminished purchasing capacity of the poor during food crisis. Well-targeted conditional cash transfers, and feeding and employment programs, such as those in Latin America can be implemented. As opposed to traditional frontline social protection programs like food and fuel subsidies—which have had limited success in reaching and benefiting the intended beneficiaries—well-targeted safety nets provide immediate relief at times of high or volatile  food prices, and deliver effective high returns in reducing poverty and the vulnerability of the poor.

Achieving food security, while simultaneously promoting inclusive growth, requires appropriate interventions that reinforce their linkages. A combination of direct and indirect investments for short-term and long-term impacts presents us a win-win solution in making inclusive growth efforts more responsive to the challenge of making the world food-secure for all.