Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page


Significant progress was made in the past 30 years and must continue to be made in the coming years in raising food consumption levels, improving nutrition, and reducing poverty through agricultural transformation in most developing countries. Yet, as highlighted earlier, the region is home to two-thirds of the world's hungry and poor people. Moreover, average yields of most commodities in most developing countries are relatively low and there are wide yield gaps. The foremost challenge for South, South-east and East Asia is to fight hunger and poverty and to improve yields. The agriculture-led broad-based economic growth - the main recourse to fight the maladies - must take place under the settings where the natural base of production resources, such as land, water and biodiversity, have shrunk, and there is widespread environmental and agro-ecological deterioration. The worrying signs of degradation of bread baskets, such as the fatigued rice-wheat lands in the Punjab and other parts of South Asia, and irresponsible fishing and aquaculture in the region, must be seen as warning signals. Such destructive trends must be halted to avert collapse of the production bases.

New socio-economic regimes have emerged, especially globalization and liberalization, with both positive and negative implications for developing countries. Liberalization of agricultural markets would be beneficial to developing countries by forcing adoption of new technologies, shifting production functions upwards, and attracting capital flow in agriculture - but only if the process is mindful of the interests of small-scale farmers and fisherfolks who constitute the bulk of the farming population in the region. Therefore, trade agreements must be accompanied by operationally effective measures to ease the adjustment process for small farmers in developing countries. Otherwise, the poor- rich divide will widen further, exacerbating livelihood-security problems. Can science and technology development increase agricultural competitiveness of developing countries and their small and resource-poor farmers, and help provide a more-level playing field?

At the global level, the limits to agricultural production were posed by the limits on demand. But, this may not long hold true for the Asian region, as that region has to feed 57 percent of the world's population from only about 33 percent of the world's arable land; moreover that land area has been shrinking at a much faster rate than elsewhere, and land per caput has steadily been declining. In the next 30 years, one additional ton of grain must be produced from each hectare to meet the projected food demand. Producing this increment shall increase environmental pressures. Moreover, equity and other socio-economic concerns must be addressed in order to realize potentials of new technologies. Can science and new technologies, coupled with modern management approaches and effective policies, assist in minimizing the negative trends and perhaps in promoting positive effects? Can it do so even if the growth in agricultural research expenditure has been slowing and the digital divide is widening?

Pre- and post-harvest losses generally range from 15 to 30 percent in the region, adversely impacting productivity, quality and export, and hence food security and income. Livestock, fruits and fish are highly perishable foods, requiring proper handling and processing if these are to be utilized in a cost effective and efficient way for the benefit of those who rely on them for nutrition and income. For fish, for example, FAO estimates that up to 20 million tons of fish is wasted by being discarded at sea immediately after catch. Improved post-harvest processing conforming to HACCP and ISO 9000 is seen as a way of developing the fishery industry without increasing harvests. Sanitary and phyto-sanitary and food-safety aspects are expected to play major roles in both domestic marketing and exports.

Over the next 30 years, as noted earlier, demands for cereals and meat are expected to grow annually by 1.5 and 2.5 percent, respectively. Self-sufficiency ratio of cereals production in Asia will continue to be above 90 percent, thus underpinning further intensification to meet the expanding demand. In other words, most of the additional food production must materialize in the countries which are already food deficient - albeit at household level. There is need to guard against, and to monitor, impacts of reaching the limits of the agricultural carrying capacity, of coping with the requirement to sustain natural resources, of over-exploitation of resources leading to faster rate of land degradation, deforestation, cultivation of marginal lands, water depletion and contamination, ecosystem acidification, and loss of bio-diversity. The mining of soils under the intensification process of the green revolution has been associated with deficiencies of increasing the number of micronutrients (Fig 5). Soil quality, top-soil protection and soil organic matter maintenance, nutrient cycling, prevention of soil toxicity due to waste disposal. and maintaining soil-microbiological activity against the threat of agro-chemicals, all pose soil-management challenges for sustainable agriculture. Science and technological developments hold the key to the alleviation of the intensification-related constraints.

Figure 5: Progression of multiple micro-nutrient deficiencies in soils

Intensive animal production systems generate ammonia (causing eco-system acidification), methane, and nitrous oxide. By year 2030, methane emission in Asia will have more than doubled (Table 19). Concentrated liquid and solid wastes cause leaching of nitrates and eutrophication. In peri-urban areas, swine and poultry industries pose problems of environment pollution, high cost of managing wastes and foul odour. Antibiotics used in intensive animal production have led to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant strains of salmonella, listeric and e-coli. Transmission of the zoonotic diseases (tuberculosis, BSE, foot-and-mouth) is a growing concern within intensive animal production systems; they pose a technological challenge to prevent their recurrence. Heavy metals, such as cadmium, which are introduced via feed phosphates, can enter the human-food chain.

Table 19: Methane emission from livestock (million ton/ann)


Dairy cows

Cattle & buffalo

Sheep & goats


South & East Asia











Industrial countries






















Source: Agriculture: Towards 2015/30 - Technical interim report, FAO Rome (2000)
The "grow now, clean up later approach" must be shaken off: the environmental degradation in the region is already pervasive and accelerating. Declining environmental quality and increasing pressure on natural resources are constraining the economic growth that is needed to reduce poverty and enhance food security in the region. Strong political commitment is needed to forge congruence between technology adoption, economic productivity, and environmental improvement.

Water must be used as a precious resource - both at home and on farm. In India, it is projected that the per capita water availability will reduce from 2000 m3 to the stress level of 1700 m3 in the next two to three decades. In particular, agriculture's water share will reduce from the present 89 percent to about 75 percent by 2020: more shall need to be produced from progressively less water. In Asia, Asian Development Bank reports that one in three Asians lacks access to safe drinking water within 200 meters of their home.

Climate change, variability and global warming and their impact on agriculture and vice versa emerge as new threats and challenges. Expected sea-level rises of between 15 to 94 cm over the century will adversely affect the coastal ecosystem: island states (such as the Maldives and Sri Lanka) may thereby face serious threats.. Tropical and sub-tropical agriculture will be negatively impacted by adverse changes in temperature, precipitation, and sea-level rise - further threatening the livelihoods of the poor persons dwelling in those climate zones. Moreover, in the A-P Region during recent decades those livelihoods have been adversely affected by an increased intensity and frequency of natural disasters. Indeed, since the mid-197os, the A-P Region has suffered four-fifths of the world's loss of life (and associated damage) from natural disasters.

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page