Science, agricultural research, and technology development played a pivotal role during the last 40-50 years in achieving spectacular increases in food and agricultural production to feed the billions of additional people. World population at 6.3 billion is twice that of the mid-1960s. It is gratifying that for most parts of the world this huge increase in world population was accompanied by significant progress in food security. The share of the world population that has adequate access to food has continued to rise. World per caput food supplies are today some 17 percent above what they were 30 years ago - agricultural production has thus kept pace with and even outstripped population growth (FAO, 2000a).
The Asia-Pacific Region has undergone an unprecedented transformation in food and agricultural production, food security, and rural development during the past 35 years. The Green Revolution, a science-led synergism among enhanced genetic potential (improved seeds), irrigation, and fertilizers in the mid-1960s, was the engine of this transformation. During 1969-99, Asian cereal production more than doubled - reaching nearly one billion tons. Notwithstanding the addition of 1.3 billion people to the region's population, average per caput food availability increased by 30 percent. For the major food staples - rice and wheat - prices halved in real terms as productivity increased, making these staples more affordable, thereby resulting in a considerable decrease in the number of hungry people. Increased agricultural productivity, rapid industrial growth in many countries, and expansion of the non-formal rural economy resulted in a near-tripling of the per caput GDP; poverty incidence decreased from 60 percent to less than 30 percent.
Despite continuous growth in the world economy, and considerable food availability in major exporters, the aggregate food-security situation of the (all-countries) developing world has shown little progress in recent years; however, among developing-world between regions and countries, food security varies widely. Of the 777 million malnourished people in the developing world, 497 million live in the Asia-Pacific (A-P) Region (FAO, 2001a). Projections indicate that with a continuation of current trends, the World Food Summit (WFS) target (of halving by Year 2015 the numbers of undernourished persons) is not likely to be achieved. The achievement gap can be attributed to the unsatisfactory state of development of science and technology, general indifference to investment in agriculture (including agricultural research and technology), and social and economic barriers.
Child malnutrition exacts its highest toll in the A-P Region (A-P R) - especially in South Asia. Likewise, nearly 800 million - two-thirds of the world's poor - live in the A-P R. It is disquieting that in recent years the numbers of hungry and poor people remain stubbornly high. This may be attributed in part to the declining rate of growth in food and agricultural production in the 1990s. Moreover, agricultural intensification in the region has often been associated with land, water, and overall environmental degradation. The per caput availability of land in is one-sixth of that in the rest of the world. Further, nearly three-fifths of the future increase in world population will occur in A-P R, which already houses 57 percent of the world's population, thus exacerbating the imbalance.
Future increases in food and agricultural production will have to be achieved from ever-shrinking and generally deteriorating land, water, and other production resources. The principal task over the next 20 years is to consolidate and extend the gains of Green Revolution years while meeting new challenges. The most pressing of these challenges are the conservation and improvement of natural and other production resources while pursuing intensification, meeting the strong growth in demand for animal, horticultural, and other high-value commodities by diversification strategies, improving and harnessing the potential of rainfed and other unfavourable regimes (where many of the poor live, and which have been neglected in the past) and by meeting the opportunities and costs of globalization and of biotechnological and informatics revolutions (keeping in mind the welfare and livelihood security of the hungry and poor). Policies for meeting these challenges will function and evolve within a number of dynamic technological, socio-economic and institutional constraints and settings. Science and technology must play an important role in meeting these challenges and opportunities.
Science will be required to play, as in the past, the central role in alleviating hunger and poverty in a sustainable manner. It will be called upon to benefit the poor more than in the past, and to enable much faster growth than in recent years, and to improve the environment. It must also improve profitability, competitiveness, and rural incomes, and increase the accessibility of the poor to adequate quantities of safe, good-quality food for a nutritionally adequate diet. This paper analyzes the past and forecast trends and explores how science and technology can be harnessed to bring about a more just, equitable, and sustainable pattern of agricultural growth and development for raising levels of nutrition, standards of living, and overall livelihood security.