Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Hiroyuki Konuma

FAO Regional Representative for Asia-Pacific

Global Trends and Development in Food Security


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

delivered at the

Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore
Food Industry Convention 2013

10 October 2013


Honorable Minister for National Development and Defense, Mr. Khaw Boon Wan,
Honorable Minister of State for National Development and Defense, Dr. Mohamed Maliki Bin Osman,
Respected Chairman, Mr Koh Soo Keong,
Ms Tan Poh Hong, Chief Executive Officer, Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore,
Distinguished guest, Speakers, participants, ladies and gentlemen,

First of all, I wish to thank the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) for inviting me for this key note presentation at the opening of the AVA Food Industry Convention 2013.

I wish to start my presentation by assessing future outlook and challenges in agriculture and food security, and their potential implications for a small net food importing country like Singapore.

At present, the world produces more than sufficient food to meet the demand of everyone, and maintains adequate food stocks. Indeed, the cereal supply is about 3% higher than the estimated demands.

Preliminary forecast of cereal production for 2013 (as of October 2013) is expected to increase by 8% to about 2.5 billion m/t with world record, contributed by increase of wheat production by 7%, coarse grain 11% and milled rice by 1.1%.

Despite of this, the world is a home of 842 million undernourished people in 2011-13. The number of hungry people in the world remains unacceptably high. One in every eight people is suffering from chronic hunger. The vast majority of them (98%) live in developing countries (826 million people).

Asia Region remains a home of nearly two thirds (63%) of the world total chronic hunger population, despite of its rapid economic growth.

The benefit of economic growth was not equally shared among population in different economic status. In many cases, it benefitted the rich who could invest further, while the poor who did not have a capital or opportunities to invest were left behind, resulted in widening of disparity and social inequality.

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 has produced a series of perspective studies projecting the state of world food and agriculture in the future. The most recent study makes projections to the year 2050.   One of the most critical challenges is the population growth. The world population is projected to increase from present level of 7 billion, and would reach 9.2 billion by 2050. Thus, more food is needed to feed the rapidly growing world population, especially for next 40 years towards 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.

Another challenge is a rapid urbanization and change in dietary habit which would result in increased demand of meat, milk, eggs, fish, etc.   At present, a half of world population live in cities. It is estimated that sixty (60) percent of world population would live in urban centres 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 a rapid decline of agricultural labour force, changes in dietary habits, growth in the importance of urban and peri-urban agriculture to meet food needs, etc.

With the advancement of economy, per capita food consumption per day has increased and 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.

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 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 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.

In summary, FAO’s baseline projections to 2050, 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.   Indeed, we have to attain the target under existing 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 such as future crude oil prices, food price hike and volatilities, negative impact of climate changes and natural disasters, and uncertainty of bio-fuel development

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

Water resources are becoming more and more scarce. 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.

Indeed , one person require 2-5 litres of drinking water per day, while the production of 1kg of wheat requires 1,500 litres of water and 1kg of meat requires 15,000 litres of water. One person requires a daily need of 3,000 litres of water.

The demand for meat has been rapidly increasing, especially in emerging middle income large countries such as China and India, for which more food grains will be used for animal feeds, and more water will be needed as well. Annual productivity growth rate of cereals has been slowed down considerably since past one decade if compared to the time of green revolution.

Indeed, in the past 10 years, the average annual productivity growth of wheat and rice recorded at around 0.6-0.8 %, which was below population growth rate of 1.2%

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 30 percent for cereals.

And a lot of food waste is recorded even after foods have reached on dining table. These figures include wastage of foods after they were cooked. Indeed, 15-25 percent food waste after cooking and they reach our dining table in Europe, North America and industrial Asian countries.

One of future uncertainties which might influence food security is crude oil prices. We often forget that the crude oil price was less than US$ 20 per barrel in 1999, which is now jumped by over 5 times high at the level of US$ 105-110 per barrel. This influenced the drastic increase of production cost of foods associated by the cost increase of chemical fertilizers, transportation cost of farm produce, cost of diesel for irrigation, etc. It also resulted in high cost of bio-ethanol and corresponding cost of raw materials especially maize which is one of the key staple foods for human and feed for animals for meat, milk and associated products.

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

Food prices have been volatile in past decade. At present, food prices are more or less stabilized but remain very high. FAO Food Price Index in September 2013 averaged 199 points, which was 1% lower than that of in August 2013. However, it is about 100 % higher than that of 97.7 points in 2003.

According to most credited 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 worst scenario in 2080, world would have 39% less harvested areas, while developing countries have 29% less which might result in additional 130 million undernourished people in sub-Sahara Africa.

In Asia and the pacific region, negative consequences of climate change are seen as a frequent occurrence of natural disasters such as floods and droughts which has doubled in past 10 years. These have affected food production and price stability.

On the other hand, bio-energy crops compete with food crops on the use of land and water which are already scarce and hence threat food security.

It is projected that the bio-ethanol and bio-diesel production would be doubled in 20 years from 2009, which would influence food security if choices are let 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.

Can we increase food production by 60% (or by 77 % in developing countries) by 2050 to meet the needs of growing population which would reach 9.2 billion at that time from almost fully exploited arable land and scarcity of water? The answer is “yes, in principle. We have to”. But majority of it has to come from existing arable land through agricultural research and yield increase.

FAO’s projections indicate that the most likely 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. This also necessitates that greater attention be accorded to the development of food crops of high productivity that can grow well on marginal lands and that can tolerate growth in unique habitats such as fresh water swamps and saline conditions .

Even if we succeed to increase food production by 60% by 2050, it is just only one achievement out of many constraints we have to overcome. Indeed, there are several critical uncertain factors which are out of our control and would influence food security. Some factors are particularly important: that are crude oil price hike, impact of climate changes, and bio-fuel production which is expected to be doubled in next 10 years, and would increase competition of use of land and water between food crops and bio-energy crops.

In overall, we would be capable to increase food production by 60 % in principle to meet the growing needs of future population by 2050. However, we are yet not fully sure if we can overcome various constraints to achieve the goal, as many of which are unpredictable.

Now I wish to assess the implication of the future outlook of food security situation towards 2050 for a small net food importing countries like Singapore.

As I mentioned, in theory, world would be able to produce sufficient food to meet the demand of growing future population. However, there are many factors which poses uncertainty and risks to achieve the target. Let’s look at the potential risks if the world is unable to meet the production target, and if there would be a food shortage in the future. We anticipate that export ban of food by food exporting countries to protect their own consumers might be happened as observed previously, which would result in great uncertainty to secure food import by food importing countries. The situation might result in food price hike, food price volatility, negative impact to the poor consumers, and might lead to social unrest and political instability in some countries as witnessed in recent past in number of countries. In order to prevent such negative consequences, what type of measures might be taken to minimize the risks?

I suggest that domestic food production through vertical farming and urban agriculture be promoted further. Various types of urban agriculture mean not only a more stable food supply, but also fresher, safer and more nutritious food.

Of course, such production strategies have obvious limitations, and Singapore will never be self-sufficient in food. Therefore, promoting technical cooperation with food exporting developing countries, especially those in Southeast Asia, can increase economic, political and psychological ties, trust and mutual feelings of working together in pursuit of a common goal, and secure long-term stable food import.

One particular area where Singapore can contribute is to build upon its current work and expand its reputation as an international center of excellence in the area of cutting-edge plant genetics. Such research is crucial for developing a healthy agricultural sector, and it is the one area where Singapore actually has a comparative advantage in agriculture. Both Singapore and fellow ASEAN countries would benefit tremendously from such investments.

Cooperation in agricultural research has much more potential to improve Singapore’s food security than buying land in other countries, which often leads to feelings of mistrust and damages relationships with other countries. In addition, even if a country owns land in another country, there is no guarantee that the food produced on those farms can be exported in times of crisis. It may be possible to invest in some land in developed countries with land surpluses (such as Australia), but buying land in developing countries with limited land is very problematic.

Singapore is a world leader in free trade, and it can continue to promote more free trade agreements, especially in food and agriculture. Freer trade means more food security for Singapore and for other countries as well.

It will also help to diversify trade sources, in order to avoid excessive dependence on one or two partners. More diversification will come at a greater cost compared to relying just on the one or two cheapest suppliers, but these additional costs may be worth it.

Singapore can also negotiate long-term forward contracts for various foods in order to ensure stability of supply.

Building emergency food reserve is another measure which would help in coping with any emergency situation.   Singapore as a key ASEAN member, it would be important to promote ASEAN Integrated Food Security Framework and associated food security policy to ensure strong political commitments within ASEAN community to help each other to ensure a sustainable food security.

Finally, on the consumption side, Singaporeans can be encouraged to diversify their diets. More diverse diets will help to ensure a diverse range of trade partners as well as improved health and nutrition. WHO data shows that the percentage of Singaporeans considered overweight increased to almost one-third in 2004 (most recent available). While not nearly as bad as in some western countries, the incidence has been increasing and steps should be taken to stop it from increasing further.

It would also be important to reduce food losses and table waste, as we anticipate nearly 15-20 % of foods are wasted in Singapore after they were cooked and served at dining table.

Public and private sector partnership should be enhanced, and a strong sense of solidarity be built up.

In overall, we need to promote awareness and advocate the importance of food and agriculture among the all generations in society, help each other through a strong sense of solidarity, and ensure food for all for our future generations.

Thank you.