ESA Working Paper No. 04-17



Westernization of Asian Diets and the
transformation of food systems:
Implications for research and policy

Prabhu Pingali


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Agricultural and Development Economics Division
The Food and Agriculture Organization
of the United Nations



Rapid economic and income growth, urbanization, and globalization are leading to a dramatic shift of Asian diets away from staples and increasingly towards livestock and dairy products, vegetables and fruit, and fats and oils. While the diversification of diets away from the traditional dominance of rice with rising incomes is expected and observed, current food consumption patterns are showing signs of convergence towards a Western diet. Globalization and the consequent global interconnectedness of the urban middle class, is the driving force behind the convergence of diets. The rapid spread of global supermarket chains and fast food restaurants are reinforcing the above trends.

The following six key stylised facts characterize the changes in food demand in Asia: i) reduced per capita consumption of rice; ii) increased consumption per capita of wheat and wheat based products; iii) increased diversity in the food groups consumed; iv) rise in high protein and energy dense diets; v) increased consumption of temperate zone products; and vi) the rising popularity of convenience food and beverages. As the demand profile changes with economic growth and globalisation, so the supply systems must adapt to accommodate this change.

Asian agriculture is on an irreversible path leading away from its traditional preoccupation with cereal crop production, especially rice, towards a production system that is becoming increasingly commercialized and diversified. This paper addresses the opportunities and constraints in the transformation process. It discusses the prospects for the small farmer to share in the benefits from greater market integration. Finally, the paper identifies an agenda for science, technology and policy that will allow for a smoother transition to the emerging production and food supply system.


© FAO 2004