Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Hiroyuki Konuma

FAO Regional Representative for Asia-Pacific



Hiroyuki Konuma
Assistant Director-General and
FAO Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific

Delivered at the

International Society of Paddy and Water Environment Engineering (PAWEES)
Challenges of Water & Environmental Management in Mansoon Asia

Royal Irrigation Department
Nonthaburi, Thailand
27 November 2012


Distinguished participants,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning.

First of all, I wish to thank the International Society of Paddy and Water Environment Engineering (PAWEES), the Faculties of Engineering at Chulalongkorn University and Kasertsart University, and the Royal Irrigation Department for inviting me as a Keynote Speaker at the PAWEES 2012 International Conference on “Challenges of Water & Environmental Management in Monsoon Asia.” FAO is an United Nations specialized technical agency responsible for agriculture, food security and rural development. It aims to attain a world free from hunger and malnutrition, where food and agriculture contribute to improving the living standards of all, especially the poor, in an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable manner. FAO is one of the largest UN Agencies with its HQs in Rome, Italy and 5 regional offices. In Asia and the Pacific region, the regional office is located in Bangkok, Thailand which covers 44 countries in the region. I am the head of the regional office, and the Regional Representative of the Organization.

Today my presentation will focus on the global and regional food security situation and outlook, with a focus on rice, water and environment.

At present, the world produces more or less sufficient food and maintains adequate stocks to feed the world. However, FAO estimates that a total of 870 million people, out of 7 billion world population, were undernourished in 2010-12, with 852 million of those to be found in developing countries. This is a decline from 980 million undernourished in developing countries in 1990-92, and we are only slightly behind the pace needed to achieve the first Millennium Development Goal. Nevertheless, that progress should not obscure the fact that having so many undernourished people in the world is not acceptable. Furthermore, the negative health consequences of micronutrient deficiencies continue to affect around 2 billion people, and childhood malnutrition is a cause of death for more than 2.5 million children every year.

Progress has also been good in the Asia and Pacific region, with the percentage of undernourished declining from 24.7 percent in 1990/92 to 14 percent in 2010/12.

While the proportion of chronic hunger is highest in Sub-Sahara Africa where more than one out of four people suffer from chronic hunger, our home, the Asia and the Pacific Region, recorded the highest number of undernourished at 537 million people - 62 percent of the world’s chronically hungry population.

It is also important to know that eighty-eight (88) percent of the chronically hungry people in this region live in just 6 countries (India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Philippines).

The Asia and the Pacific region recorded the highest economic growth among all regions as shown in per capita GDP growth in the past two decades, which helped lead to the sharp decline in the proportion of poor (those living on less than US$ 1.25/day) in total population from 50% to 22% between 1990 and 2009 in the region.

However, rapid economic growth has resulted in less progress against hunger. There has also been widening income disparity and inequality in both least developed and middle income countries.

In addition to nearly nine hundred million people who are chronically hungry, micro-nutrient malnutrition is affecting two billion people. These deficiencies affect physical growth and brain development of infants, especially during the initial 1000 days of growth before and after their birth.

On the other hand, we should not forget that, at the same time, more than one billion people are overweight as a result of over intake of foods, and are suffering from diabetes and non-communicable diseases. We live on a planet of social injustice where a fundamental human right, the right to food for all, is practically ignored or disregarded, and rich people continue enjoying an abundance of food while poor people suffer from hunger.

On top of existing food insecurity problems, we now have a new factor influencing hunger. That is “food price hike and volatility,” affecting especially poor consumers who spend a large portion of income on food. According to the Asian Development Bank’s recent report, the food price crisis in 2007-08 pushed back over 100,000 people in this region each year who were expected to get out of poverty.

I now wish to talk about the world food production situation.

At present, the world is producing about 2.3 billion tons of cereals annually, which is more or less sufficient to meet the needs of every one. In addition, the world keeps a total food stock of about 500 million tons which covers over 20 percent of annual global requirement.

The most recent food production estimates issued by FAO indicate, however, a decline of wheat and maize production that will result in a slight supply shortfall of cereals, with the result that cereal consumption will exceed production and cereal stocks will need to be drawn down by 5 percent from the previous year’s level.

Among cereals, wheat production would be most affected with an estimated decline of 5.2 percent mainly due to drought in the Russian Federation. The production of coarse grain is projected to decline by 2.3%, primarily due to severe drought in the USA affecting maize production. However, the decline in stocks will be mitigated by reduced use of maize for bio-ethanol production in USA.

In contrast to wheat and maize, world rice production in 2012/13 is expected to reach a new historical high, with a marginal increase by 0.2 percent, despite some countries such as India being affected by drought. Thailand, Indonesia and China are all expected to harvest larger crops this year. Consumption is expected to remain about constant in per capita terms, but population growth means an increase in total utilization. Nevertheless, production increases are projected to exceed the increase in utilization, resulting in the increase of global rice stocks by 6 percent. This would be the eighth consecutive year of stock accumulation at the global level, with the stock to use ratio reaching 34 percent.

One year ago, FAO’s food price index rose to 238 points, its highest level ever – even beyond the food crisis level in 2008. It has come down slightly in the recent past, but it still remains over 200 points and is two times higher than 10 years ago. It remained at 213 points in July and August 2012, but increased by 1.4 percent (3 points) in September 2012.

The main drivers for the increase in the FAO Food price Index in September 2012 were the price increases for cereals, meat and dairy products, as the cost of animal feeds such as maize and wheat increased.

International rice prices have been more stable than world wheat and maize prices this year. FAO’s export rice price index, which combines price quotations for different types of rice from different locations, increased very slightly by less than 1 percent in September. For the year 2012 to date (through September), the FAO rice price index is 5.8 percent below the level during the same period in 2011.

In summary, the world produces more or less sufficient food to meet the demand of every one at present. However, recent droughts affecting several major food exporting countries have tightened the supply-demand situation and will force a drawdown in global cereal stocks, although rice stocks continue to increase. As crude oil prices are still much lower than the level in 2007/08, rice production is expected to reach another record high with a bumper harvest globally, and winter wheat production is progressing very favourably at present. Thus, it is premature to expect another food price crisis as happened in 2027/08. However, over the longer term, it is anticipated that the food prices will remain high. We need to monitor the situation very closely and take the necessary preventive measures.

I wish to move to the future outlook of food production, demand and overall food security. The question before us in this challenging time is what is the food requirement to meet the needs of growing population and what is the future prospect of production and challenges in food production to ensure food security for our children and future generations. FAO has been looking at this question analytically for many years and produced a series of perspective studies projecting the state of world food and agriculture in the future. I will discuss the most recent projections for the year 2050.

In summary, FAO’s baseline projections indicate that it should be possible to meet the food ( including feed) demand of the projected world population of year 2050, making reasonable assumptions about growth in yields and in land and water use. Achieving the projected increase in production, however, will require several significant challenges to be met, and may have side-effects that need to be addressed. Water and the environment present two of the most important challenges that will be faced.

The world population is projected to reach 9.2 billion by 2050. The annual population growth rate is projected to slow down from present level of 1.2 percent to less than 0.5 percent in 2050.

At present, half the world population lives in cities. It is estimated that sixty (60) percent of the world population will live in urban cities in 2030 and nearly 70 percent by 2050. For Southeast Asia, nearly 63 percent of total population is expected to live in urban areas in 2050. This trend implies a rapid decline of the agricultural labour force, changes in dietary habits, and an increased importance of urban and peri-urban agriculture.

Per capita food consumption per day has reached 2770 kcal/person/day in 2005/07, while it was only 2370 kcal/person/day at the beginning of the 1970s. There are similar trends among the regions. In our most recent (provisional) projections, the world average consumption is expected to be just over 3000 kcal/person/day in 2050. Per capita consumption in East (including Southeast) Asia is expected to approach saturation levels, reaching 3225 kcal/person/day in 2050.

On the other hand, there will be changes in the food composition of the diet. As a group, developing countries may pass from the 2619 kcal of 2005-07 to almost 3000 kcal in 2050. These changes will imply a switch towards energy-dense diets, high in saturated fat, sugar and salt, and low in unrefined carbohydrates. Combined with lifestyle changes driven by urbanization, such transitions are likely to be accompanied by an increase in diet-related chronic non-communicable diseases. A relevant policy challenge in this area is orienting consumers toward healthy diets and lifestyles, in order to reduce the social and economic burden of food-related diseases. In East and South Asia, diets will continue to be dominated by cereals, although cereals will become less important than at present. Within the group of cereals, the importance of rice will decline in most of Asia, as people diversify their diets to include more wheat products. On the other hand, the role of meats, vegetable oils and sugar is expected to increase considerably.

Let us now turn to the supply side. Given the expected evolution of consumption, how much more should be produced in 2050? A lot, in absolute terms; and this is another significant challenge. According to our most recent projections, in 2050, compared to 2005/07, the world would produce every year one more billion tons of cereals; 196 more million tons of meats; 660 more million tons of roots and tubers; 172 more million tons of soybeans; 429 more million tons of fruits; 365 more million tons of vegetables.
Overall, world agricultural production would need to increase by about 60 percent (77 percent for developing countries alone) between 2005/07 and 2050. However, if we compare these expected developments with the past, we realize that this is a slowdown in terms of growth rates, as world agricultural production has recorded an increase of about 170 percent between 1961-63 and 2005-07, largely due to new technologies such as the high-yielding cereal varieties of the Green Revolution. For Asia alone, the Green Revolution facilitated a cereal production increase of 300 percent during the same period, which pushed world cereal prices down by 40 percent in real terms and helped to reduce global hunger.

However, we have to attain the target under many constraints such as stagnation of expansion of arable land, increasing scarcity of water resources, decline of productivity growth affected by lack of investment in agriculture in recent decades, and various uncertainties surrounding future crude oil prices, food price volatility, the negative impact of climate change and natural disasters, and bio-fuel developments.

According to FAO data, in 2005/07 about 12 percent of the globe’s land surface was used for crop production, corresponding to a little more than 1.5 billion hectares. By 2050, arable land is expected to expand by some 70 million hectares, or less than 5 percent. Such expansion would happen mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and parts of Asia. Most of the projected increase in arable land use is concentrated in a small number of developing countries, including Brazil, Indonesia, Nigeria and Ethiopia. The size of arable land in some Asian counties such as China and Vietnam is projected to decline.

Can we increase food production with a very limited increase of arable land (and scarcity of water)? FAO projections indicate that the most likely – not necessarily desirable! – outcome will be an intensification of production. At world level, about 91 percent of the growth in production is expected to derive from increases in yields, while 4.3 percent would originate from area expansion and another 4.5 percent from an increase in cropping intensity. In developing countries, 12 percent of the projected growth in crop production would come from an increase in arable land, while higher cropping intensities would account for 3 percent and about 85 percent would originate from increased yields. The projected intensification will carry increased environmental pressure that needs to be addressed through improved, more eco-friendly, climate-smart cultivation techniques.

At the global level, the projected yield growth to 2050 is half of the rate of growth observed over the past few decades. Only 0.8 percent per year of cereal yield growth is expected between 2005/07 and 2050, against a 1.7 percent increase per year between 1961 and 2007. This slowdown is a gradual process which has been under way for some decades, and is expected to continue in the future. In absolute terms, however, yields will still need to increase to meet demand.

Now I turn to a subject that you have tremendous expertise in, expertise that will be needed to help meet the challenge of feeding the world in 2050. Do we have enough water to support the projected increase in production? Water has a key role to play in all of the paths to higher production: increases in arable land, increases in cropping intensity and higher yields. When new land is brought under cultivation, it is often important to provide that land with modern irrigation systems. Irrigation also helps to increase cropping intensity, by allowing farmers to grow multiple crops in the same year. And irrigation alleviates water stress on plants, leading to higher and more stable yields.

But agriculture already uses about 70 percent of the water resources of the planet, and there are increasing demands for that water from households, for environmental purposes, and from the industrial sector. If we aim to increase agricultural production by 60 percent by 2050, the pressure on water resources will be increased considerably. Therefore, it will be crucial to increase the productivity and efficiency of water use, while at the same time reducing the environmental impact.

The demands for water to produce food are tremendous. One person requires 2-5 litres of drinking water per day, while the production of one kilogram of wheat requires 1,500 litres of water and one kilogram of meat requires 15,000 litres of water. Altogether, one person requires 3,000 litres of water daily to meet food needs.

Competition of water use between food crops and non-food crops such as bio-energy crops, and also between agricultural use and non-agricultural uses of water also needs to be addressed.

So what are the solutions to water scarcity? It is important to stress that we needs solutions in practice, not on paper. Many of the solutions widely promoted or implemented have not been adapted to local conditions, effective or politically feasible. Instead of merely lamenting the lack of political will when what we recommend is not politically or socially acceptable, we must consider effective and feasible plan-B or second-best options.

To achieve a coherent, effective and feasible set of policies, strategies and interventions, the following are needed:

  • A solid water accounting foundation;
  • Improved processes for decision-making and negotiation among stakeholders; 
  • Addressing the Water, Food, Energy and Climate nexus in an integrated approach;
  • Progress on monitoring of investment and results.

In order to come up with solutions, we also need to explicitly consider the following dilemmas and tradeoffs:

  • How to manage transitions linked to the rapid socio-economic transformations of economies, agriculture and livelihoods, in order to support a vision of productive and viable producers. The farmers of the future, if they are to escape poverty, will need to be more commercially oriented. And many, but not all, of the next rural generation will want to leave the agricultural sector.
  • How to manage economic water productivity vs. equity. Increased competition for water often translates into loss of access to water for the poor and other vulnerable groups and water transfers out of agriculture.
  • How to reconcile national objectives vs. local and river basin objectives when these are increasingly in conflict.
  • How to develop realistic financial arrangements for water operators and design smart subsidies when public financial support is still needed to provide incentives for performance.

Based on its vast experience, FAO can propose some solutions:

  • A greener economy through sustainable intensification of agriculture – more efficiency in use of inputs, higher productivity and reduced use of harmful agro-chemicals, including by modernizing irrigation management; 
  • New investments in water for food to build resilience through a set of climate-smart measures that consider both climate change adaptation and mitigation;
  • Transparent and accountable governance of natural resources at household, community, catchment, country, transboundary river basin and regional levels;
  • Building the institutions and capacities that make a difference.

So far, we looked at the long term food and agricultural outlook through the analysis of projected demand and supply. I also highlighted a number of major challenges that world agriculture has to face in increasing food supplies, especially stagnation in arable land expansion and increasing scarcity of water resources. We can easily identify more of them. Four factors are particularly important: crude oil prices, food price volatility, the impact of climate change, and bio-fuel development.

We often forget that the crude oil price was less than US$ 15 per barrel in 1998. But for 2011-12, West Texas Intermediate has averaged more than US$95 per barrel. This has increased the production cost of foods due to cost increases of chemical fertilizers, transportation cost of farm produce, cost of diesel for irrigation, etc. Higher oil prices have also resulted in a high price for bio-ethanol, which in turn led to higher prices for maize, which is one of the key staple foods for humans and is also used as animal feed, which in turn leads to price increases for meat, milk and associated products.

It is still very uncertain what the future trend of crude oil prices will be, as they are often influenced by the political and social stability of oil-producing countries.

According to most scientists, key climate variables are likely to change over the coming decades. Global mean surface temperatures are projected to increase between 1.8°C and 4.0°C by 2100. This entails higher carbon dioxide concentrations, changes in the pattern of precipitation, increased weeds, pests and diseases. Impacts on agricultural production are likely to be unevenly distributed. Broadly speaking, the Southern Hemisphere may suffer damages in terms of declining yields and greater frequency of extreme droughts and floods. The estimated aggregated negative impact on African agricultural output ranges from 15 percent to 30 percent. And developing countries are expected to increase their food imports under climate change scenarios. In the Northern Hemisphere, instead, higher temperatures may benefit agriculture, expanding potentially suitable crop areas and yields.

In the Asia and the Pacific region, the negative consequences of climate change are seen as a more frequent occurrence of natural disasters such as floods and droughts, which have doubled in the past 10 years. These have affected food production and price stability. There is a need to promote technologies to adapt to climate change and formulate disaster risk deduction strategies.

In addition, bio-energy crops compete with food crops for the use of land and water which are already scarce, and hence threat food security. It is projected that bio-ethanol and bio-diesel production will nearly double in from 2009 to 2018, which would influence food security if choices are left entirely to farmers. A comprehensive food security and bio-energy policy is needed to promote appropriate land use planning and to ensure that food security would not be compromised by the excess expansion of bio-fuel production.

Moreover, we should not forget that a lot of foods are wasted after harvest – as much as 45 percent for fresh fruits and vegetables, and 20-30 percent for cereals.

These figures include wastage of foods after they reach our table in the dining room. Indeed, according to FAO data, such losses are high, with 15-20 percent food waste after cooking in Europe, North America and industrial Asian countries.

To conclude, what is the policy perspective that we can draw from the long term picture of world food and agriculture? FAO projections indicate that resources may be sufficient for 9.2 billion people, provided that considerable investment is devoted to increase productivity and to improve the management of natural resources.

Crude oil prices, food price volatility, bio-fuel development and climate change are major sources of uncertainty.

Finally, I wish to stress that overall resource management needs to improve substantially, especially for land and water. This is an even more pressing demand, if we consider the perspective and the uncertainty surrounding climate change that may place additional burden on the poorest and most vulnerable population groups.

Needless to say, wide and strengthened international policy co-ordination , as well as investments in agriculture and natural resource management are prerequisites for these challenges to be met.

Everyone has a right to access food. Food is essential for our survival, stability, peace and world security. We should not forget the importance of sustainable consumption, and reducing post harvest loss and waste.

Let’s promote awareness of the importance of food and agriculture, a sense of strong solidarity, and help each other.

Moreover, I wish to express the importance of joint efforts and working together as partners, especially a stronger public and private sector partnership. I wish to assure you of FAO’s commitment, partnership and continued cooperation to attain food security and ensure food for all for our future generations.
Thank you.