Food-security challenges numerous in Asia-Pacific, despite region's economic success, says Canadian government/Asian Development Bank report
From left: IFAD’s Zak Bleicher, FAO’s Sharon Brennen-Haylock, ADB’s Cyn-Young Park, and Canada’s Anar Mamdani.
September 9: Asia’s stellar economic growth of recent decades ― regional output expanded 7.6% annually between 1990 and 2010, faster than any other ― lifted unprecedented numbers out of poverty. Undernourishment dropped sharply in the process too, while per capita calorie consumption rose steadily.
Such achievements, however, risk obscuring the region’s many unaddressed food security challenges, cautioned Cyn-Young Park, Assistant Chief Economist at the Asian Development Bank and lead author of a new study, Food Security in Asia and the Pacific, at a Monday afternoon FAO−IFAD information briefing at UN headquarters in New York.
A collaborative research project initiated by ABD in partnership with the Canadian government, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, and the University of British Columbia, the study synthesizes the findings of 14 research papers presented in 2012, explained Anar Mamdani, Development Counsellor at the Canadian Mission.
The region’s food and nutrition challenges are indeed immense: over 500m Asians, 1 in 7, still routinely go hungry. In the worst-hit countries, nearly half of all children are stunted. Recent price spikes have not helped, either. “Between 2001 and 2010, an additional 112 million people in Asia-Pacific could have escaped poverty had food prices not increased so dramatically,” calculated Ms. Park.
Any response must therefore be comprehensive, as the problem itself is complex, remarked moderator Sharon Brennen-Haylock, FAO Liaison Director to the UN, to the assembled audience of representatives from Member States, Agencies, and NGOs. “Food security is a multi-dimensional issue,” she observed. “One which requires both short and long-term action and partnerships at all levels and with all stakeholders.”
The ADB study prescribes just such a mix of carefully crafted interventions. First, said Ms. Park, tackle immediate needs by better targeting cash transfer programs and other safety nets at the very poorest. (In India and elsewhere, she noted, two-fifths of food rations disappear into the pockets of bureaucrats, distributors, and ration-shop owners.) Second, adopt structural reforms ― “invest in agricultural research and infrastructure, liberalize trade, introduce crop insurance and environmental mitigation measures”, among others ― to boost rural output and incomes.
Asia-Pacific’s burgeoning population, slowing agricultural yields, and growing taste for meat all mean more competition for scarce resources, concluded IFAD Partnership Officer Zak Bleicher. “Delayed or inadequate decisions today will further increase vulnerability to long-term food insecurity tomorrow.”