Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Hiroyuki Konuma

FAO Regional Representative for Asia-Pacific


Horticulture as Food Security in Asia and the Pacific


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

delivered at the

Horti Asia 2012 Seminar 
Global Innovation to Enhance the Local Horticulture Standardization

Bangkok, Thailand
10 May 2012


Mr. Chairman,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Good Afternoon everyone. 
Firstly, I wish to express my appreciation and gratitude to the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, Government of Thailand and other co-organizers for inviting me to this important seminar. The title of my presentation is “Horticulture as Food Security in Asia and the Pacific”.

The world is currently producing sufficient food to meet the demand of everyone and there have been substantial gains in per capita calorie consumption. However,  there hasn’t yet sufficient progress in expanding the access to adequate, safe and nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life for all people, at all times, as desired by the world leaders at the World Food Summit in 1996. As a result, one out of 7.5 people is suffering from chronic hunger on the planet. The situation is more critical in Sub Sahara Africa and South Asia.

The situation is more critical in Sub Sahara Africa and South Asia. In recent past, eradicating poverty and hunger has become more complex and challenging in the context of growing inequity, income inequality, environmental degradation, negative consequence of climate changes and the world economy sliding into recession. For the poor, who spend as much as 70 percent of their household budgets on food, high and volatile food prices have made their situation worse.  Indeed, a large number of social and political unrests seen recently in Africa and Middle East were originated from direct or indirect consequences of volatile food prices. 

The FAO’s food price index rose to 238 points at its highest level ever –  one year ago in early 2011, even beyond the food crisis level in 2008.  it came down slightly in recent past, but it still remains over 200 points and two times higher than 10 years ago.  Adequate and sustainable supply, and affordable and stable food prices are critical for our success in eradicating hunger.
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. The last one looks at year 2050.

In summary, FAO’s baseline projections indicate that it should be possible to meet the food and 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.
I wish to share more details, starting from global and regional context.  In a world of 7 billion people, FAO estimates that a total of 925 million people were undernourished in 2010, which was slightly reduced if compared with 1.02 billion in 2009, but remained higher than pre-2008 level. WHO estimates that 10 million children die before their 5th birthday every year, and that one third of these deaths are associated with under nutrition. Micronutrient malnutrition or “hidden hunger” is affecting around 2 billion people (nearly 30% of the world population) with serious public health consequences. On the other hand, we must not forget that there are about 1 billion people, nearly equal number of chronic hunger, are suffering from overweight and diet related non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, as a result of excess food intake.
In Asia and the Pacific region, despite of the fastest economic growth, there were 578 million undernourished people in 2010, which represented 62 percent of the world total.

Despite of our continued efforts, the absolute numbers remain almost the same level of 20 years ago.

Ninety one (91) percent of them live in just 6 countries (India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Philippines).

The proportion of undernourished population in Southeast Asia is less than 10 percent of total numbers in Asia and the Pacific region.  Indonesia is highest , followed by Philippines.
The achievement of MDG goal No.1 to halve the proportion of extreme hunger from 20 percent in base year (1990) to 10 percent in 2015 become a real big challenge, if consider the rate remained at 16 percent in 2010. 

I now wish to move focus on the future. The world economy is expected to grow further. This will be led by the fast growth in developing countries with an estimated annual GDP growth rate of 5-6 percent towards 2030.

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.  Sixty (60) percent of world population would 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 implies rapid decline of agricultural labour force, change in dietary habit, importance of urban and peri-urban agriculture, etc.

On the demand side, per capita food consumption per day has reached 2770 kcal/person/day in 2005/07, while it was only of 2370 kcal/person/day at the beginning of the 1970s. There are identical differences 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 Asia is expected to approach saturation levels, reaching 3225 kcal/person/day in 2050.

Despite these gains, our 2050 projections indicate that in several countries there will be only small reductions in the number of undernourished. World prevalence of undernourishment is expected to reach 4.1 percent in 2050. Sub-Saharan Africa would still be the area with the highest prevalence; while the highest absolute number of undernourished population is expected to be in Southern Asia, as it happens today. Therefore, food insecurity is set to remain a significant challenge, especially in some countries and regions. This may happen especially in the economies that will remain dominated by agriculture, where food consumption is likely to remain largely influenced by local production; and the balance between population and agricultural resources is set to worsen. In East Asia, instead, according to FAO baseline projections the number undernourished is expected to decline to 62 million people, or 2.8 percent of the expected population.
On the other hand, there would be changes in food composition of 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 increase in diet-related chronic non-communicable diseases. A relevant policy challenge, in this area, is orienting consumers toward healthy diets and lifestyles, allowing to reduce the social and economic burden of food-related diseases.  In East and South Asia, diets will continue to be dominated by cereals, which are projected to account for about 50 percent of the total caloric intake in 2050. The role of meats, vegetable oils and sugar is expected to increase considerably.
Let us now turn to the supply side. Given the highlighted 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 slow down: in terms of growth rates, as world agricultural production has recorded an increase of about 170 percent between 1961-63 and 2005-07, largely contributed by green revolution. For Asia alone , The green revolution facilitated cereal production increase of 300 percent during the same period, which pushed the cereal prices down by 40 percent in real term and halve the proportion of chronic hunger from 34 percent to 17 percent during the same period.

Do we have enough land to support the projected increase in production? 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 crop 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 and more eco-friendly and climate-smart cultivation techniques.

Do we have enough water to support the projected increase in production? Historically irrigation has been a major determinant of increased production and productivity. Agriculture uses about 70 percent of the water resources of the planet.  If we aim to increase agricultural production by 60 percent towards 2050, increase in demand for water use for agriculture is predicted and the pressure on water resources would be increased considerably. Therefore, another major challenge will be water saving agricultural production and  improving irrigation technology and increasing the efficiency of irrigation systems. 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 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. We can easily identify more of them. On the other hand there are some critical uncertain factors  which are out of our control and would influence food security. Three factors are particularly important: one is crude oil price, another one is the impact of climate changes, and the third one is the bio-fuel development.

Now I move to today’s main topic: horticulture and food security. As I mentioned earlier, in addition to 925 million chronic hunger population, the world is a home of  about 2 billon people (nearly one out of three people) suffering from micro-nutrient malnutrition. This is particularly critical for pregnant women, infants and small children whose growth of brain and body, as well as health conditions would be affected due to micro-nutrient deficiency. One of the most important and sustainable solutions to solve these problems is horticulture. Fruits and vegetables are natural source of essential vitamins, minerals and fibers for combating micronutrient deficiency, it is an important source of food itself, provide opportunities for higher income and employment, especially women, and offers opportunity for value addition through processing and preservation, and contribute to the growth of export oriented ari-business.

In Asia, during the past decade 2001-2010, fruit production growth  5.58% annually, planted area 2.80% and productivity 2.18%. Production among Asian countries range from 4.64 to 15.04 t/ha

For vegetables, in Asia, annual production growth rate was recorded at 2.39 % during 2001-2010, planted area grew 1.16 %, and productivity growth rate recorded 1.10 % annually. Yield per hectare varied from 8.98 t/ha (Southeastern Asia) to 26.92 t/ha in the Central Asia

In accordance with rapid economic growth, the demand for fruits and vegetables is expected to increase rapidly , with projected consumption of  429 more million tons of fruits (68% increase) and 365 more million tons of vegetables (47% increase).
On the other hand, there are various constraints and challenges , in addition to the stagnation of expansion of arable land, water scarcity, negative impact of climate changes, competition of natural resource use with bio-energy crops, etc., which include:

  • High priority to cereals and lower priority to vegetables
  • Production of vegetables  are low in most developing countries, and productivity is low in South/Southeast  Asia with 7.4 -13 tons/ha, against 19 tons /ha in China and 37 tons/ha in Republic of Korea
  • Supply does not meet demand- low consumption
  • Demand is increasing due to increasing income level, rapid urbanization, and improvement in connectivity
  • World vegetable production is still far from meeting even the basic nutritional need of the most countries
  • Poor research and extension facilities, lack of awareness

To conclude, I wish to look at various opportunities for the promotion of horticulture sector in this region. They are:

  • Yield gap is still  high -  potential  impact of  research , extension and training.
  • The region has a rich biodiversity with more than 80 different types of vegetables that can be grown
  • High labor intensity provides good scope to generate employment , income opportunities for small scale farmers , especially women
  • Promotion of private sector partnership, including  contract farming and private certification, and linking products with oversea markets.
  • Emergence of super markets - providing new outlets and opportunities for vegetable farmers, if they are well organized, trained and  become competitive.
  • Asia’s rapid urbanization could be turned into an advantage for  promoting urban and peri-urban horticulture
  • Substantial achievement in R&D to effectively address ongoing constraints such as low productivity and disease problem as well as to address emerging concerns driven by climate change
  • Research, demonstration and training to disseminate Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) including IPM
  • Improvement of quality and  safety of horticultural products to meet consumer  preference in  domestic and export markets.
  • Focused efforts must be continued on conservation and use of lesser known traditional and wild vegetable species and varieties to avoid the further erosion of plant biodiversity
  • Promotion of  national and regional commitment for long-term investment in horticulture research and development to enhance the diversity and increases the yield potential of  horticulture crops
  • Enhanced investment in capacity building  and in education as a key components of sustainable vegetable productions
  • Cultivation of vegetables in off-seasons to ensure adequate year-round supply of fresh vegetables
  • Production of vegetables according to organic farming principles
  • Promoting decentralized marketing and proximity production systems will help reducing production losses
  • Improving vegetable marketing systems and increasing its efficiency through investment in strengthening value chains and upgrading facilities in rural markets, which would provide significant incentive to farmers to increase production of vegetables
  • Promotion of agro-processing and preservation , and development of agro-processing industries/enterprises, and strengthening the vegetable value chains

In conclusion, fruits and vegetables play an important role in promoting household food security and nutrition, and provides sustainable solution to micronutrient malnutrition which is affecting the health of  2 billion people on the planet including children. 

Horticulture sector generates employment and income of small scale farmers especially women, while safeguarding the natural resource base.  It offers one of the highest impacts to reducing poverty and hunger, and a great potential for achieving sustained improvements in the nutrition status of the poor .

Consumption of fruits and vegetables is still low ,especially in developing countries.  Extra efforts are required to promote awareness  and advocacy on the importance of fruits and vegetables  for healthy diet and combat with micronutrient deficiency.

Potential of the expansion of fruits and vegetable cultivation remains largely untapped, partly due to  high priorities on the production of main staples in attaining calorie based food security.  A balanced approach towards the promotion of crop diversification would be needed to increase production of nutritionally-rich vegetable crops that will not undermine the larger goal of sustaining increased production of cereals, but will aim at  to ensure the availability of a diversified range of vitamins and micronutrient rich products at an affordable price,  to satisfy essential human needs.

Thank you