This most recent report on the state of food security and nutrition in Asia and the Pacific tells a grim story. An estimated 375.8 million people in the region faced hunger in 2020, which is nearly 54 million more people than in 2019. In this region alone, more than 1.1 billion people did not have access to adequate food in 2020 – an increase of almost 150 million people in just one year. The high cost of a healthy diet and persistently high levels of poverty and income inequality continue to hold healthy diets out of reach for 1.8 billion people in this region.
The pre-existing food security and nutrition situation in Asia and the Pacific in 2019, described in last year’s report, was already quite discouraging. Progress had stalled in reducing the number of undernourished, and the prevalence of certain nutritional indicators, such as stunting in children under five years of age, was much too high. Since then, the situation has worsened. While it is not yet possible to fully quantify the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, clearly it has had a serious impact across the region. Even countries that initially reported a limited number of COVID-19 cases experienced the negative effects of the containment measures, combined with people’s health concerns, that led to a major contraction of economic activity around the globe. Disruption in food supply chains only added to the problems. The situation could have been worse without the response of governments and the impressive social protection measures they put in place during the crisis.
In building back better, future agri-food systems will have to provide better production, better nutrition, a better environment and better livelihoods. Our focus must revolve around the needs of small-scale family farmers in the region, as well as the needs of other vulnerable groups such as indigenous people, women and youth. These are the people that produce the nutritious food that everyone needs to eliminate malnutrition.
Most of you reading this publication probably take for granted the wide variety of food that we eat. However, the authors hope that you can stop and reflect upon just how miraculous it is that so many different foods are available to us. We have rice that comes from any of the millions of family farms around the countryside, grown with the benefit of centuries of accumulated wisdom and transported over rough roads in the rainy season; fruits from orchards that take years of investment before the trees will bear fruit, and are also subject to many different risks that could bring hardship to the grower at any moment; fish that are caught by fishers who brave rough seas in the darkness of early morning while most of us are asleep; meat and eggs that provide protein and micronutrients essential for healthy growth; nutritious vegetables; and spices that provide variety and flavour to our favourite dishes. Truly we should give thanks for all the work that is done by family farmers around the region. Where would we be without them?
This year there are opportunities to begin the hard work of advancing food security and nutrition through transforming agri-food systems such as the United Nations Food Systems Summit, the Nutrition for Growth Summit and the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26. We must leverage the commitments made during these events to meet the second Sustainable Development Goal and eradicate food insecurity and malnutrition.