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An opinion article by FAO-Director General José Graziano da Silva

Innovating for Food Security
By José Graziano da Silva
Originally published on 04 September 2014 by PINA

Singapore is home to one of the world’s remarkable urban environments, an Asian hub of modernity. As one of Asia’s most important economies there are, of course, challenges ahead for Singapore. Perhaps the greatest is one shared by countries across the region: ensuring future food security.

Being a relatively small island with a large population, Singapore relies mostly on food imports to meet the dietary needs of its population.

While food is plentiful now, Singapore will need to be prepared for potential disruptions to its food supply. In 2008, international food prices rose and became more volatile, affecting food prices in many countries, including Singapore. This led the Group of 20 (G20) to establish the Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS), whose Secretariat is housed in the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). AMIS provides a tool to monitor international food prices, facilitate coordinated responses by countries and avoid unilateral action.

According to the latest OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook, during the next two years international food prices are expected to continue their recent fall, but should stabilize above the pre-2008 period. This has led net food importing countries to look for ways to increase domestic production.

Singapore has made efforts in this direction and, particularly, to maximise productivity from very limited land resources. This requires creativity and innovation. And it has been approaching this challenge head on. Commercial indoor and rooftop vegetable farms are opening and other urban and peri-urban agricultural initiatives are taking shape.

The world can learn from Singapore’s success stories. Globally, and particularly for Asia and the Pacific, a variety of solutions is needed as new challenges arise, with promoting food security and assuring sustainable development at the center of them.

As we approach 2015, we need a final push to meet the Millennium Development Goals and, at the same time, define the sustainable development goals that will follow.

While Singapore hasn´t faced the specter of hunger for a long time, it must be part of the global effort to reduce hunger and, ultimately, end hunger.

Since 1990-92, the proportion of hungry people in the world has declined significantly from roughly one in five to fewer than one in eight. Yet the Asia-Pacific region still has nearly two-thirds of the world’s undernourished people and more than 100 million stunted children.

Countries  across the region are stepping up to face this situation. In 2013 their governments re-affirmed a commitment to engage in support of realizing UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Zero Hunger Challenge by 2025, and many countries are now implementing their own national Zero Hunger plans.

However, it is important to remember that the world increasingly faces a multiple burden of malnutrition. Some 12 per cent of the global population - or one in eight people – are undernourished, unable to meet their dietary energy requirements. An estimated 162 million children under five years old are stunted or chronically malnourished, 51 million wasted or acutely malnourished, and  two billion people suffer one or more micronutrient deficiencies. But at the same time, 500 million people are obese.

To address these issues, the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) is being jointly organized by FAO and the World Health Organization,  to be held in Rome from 19-21 November.

Global problems need global solutions, and it´s time to get diet and nutrition back into the global development agenda. That is part of the rationale behind the holding of a high-level intergovernmental international conference such as ICN2.

ICN2 recognizes that, along with solving problems of hunger, nutrition is a public issue, not a private one. Some people believe that it is up to the family or the individual to make decisions on what they like to eat. But nutrition has a big impact in many other areas, particularly on food safety, health and also on food security. No matter where we live, rich or poor, this affects us all.

Singapore joined FAO in June 2013 and is FAO’s newest member state.  By joining FAO, the country has expressed a willingness to be at the forefront of the global dialogue on food security and developments in agriculture, fisheries and food production.

Everyone has a lot to gain with this commitment. And FAO stands ready to work together with Singapore to reach the vision that unites us all: a hunger-free and sustainable world.