Hunger Persists in Asia Amid Dynamic Economic Growth - ADB Panel

News Release | 4 May 2012

MANILA, PHILIPPINES - Asian and Pacific governments must find ways to reduce food waste and storage losses, encourage rural development, and provide well-targeted safety nets to protect the poor from hunger, says a new report presented today at the 45th Annual Meeting of the Board of Governors of the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

"The planet is now home to seven billion people and rising. One of the key challenges for developing Asia will be ensuring food security in the face of competing rural demands, poor agricultural management, and climate change, while not compromising on equitable economic growth," said Xianbin Yao, Director General of ADB's Pacific Department.

The report, Food Security and Poverty in Asia and the Pacific: Key Challenges and Policy Issues, shows that despite rapid economic growth in Asia, food insecurity and inequality remain a reality for millions. The situation is most dire in South Asia, where six out of 10 of Asia's hungry reside and eight out of 10 underweight children live.

It predicts the problem will intensify as global population increases by more than two billion between now and 2050, with Asia accounting for more than half of the increase. Moreover, Asia's emerging middle class will change consumption patterns as they shift away from cereal grains and demand more meat, vegetables and fruits, which require more water and other inputs, putting a further strain on shrinking resources.

Meeting this rising demand for food, animal feed, and biofuel will result in higher regional food prices that could erode the purchasing power of households and undermine poverty reduction. Despite the reduction in poverty rates across Asia in the late 2000s, the pace of poverty reduction was slowed down by food price hikes. ADB estimates that an additional 112 million people could have escaped poverty in Asia annually had there been no increase in food prices during the period.

The report recommends governments set up a "hunger alleviation fund," representing 1% of a country's GDP, to be used when food prices grow beyond the reach of the poor. The funds could be jointly managed with the private sector, with companies encouraged to contribute using incentives such as tax breaks. Targeted subsidies would deliver help to those who need it most.

Reducing food waste and storage losses could close the gap between supply and demand by 15-25% and a second Green Revolution - one that relies on biotechnology to increase food production - is needed. Weather-based crop insurance, as well as futures contracts that would give farmers a guaranteed minimum income for their crops, are other measures worth exploring, the report said.

"Policies should enable producers to calculate revenues in advance, providing enough incentive to boost production, and should include social security safety nets to protect consumers and give the most vulnerable sections of society the means to feed themselves," Pierre Jacquet, chief economist with the Agence Française de Développement, said at the seminar Seven Billion and Growing : How will the World Feed Itself?