Food Security in Asia: No Time for Complacency

Evaluation Document | 21 November 2013

This Topical Report is based on Food Security Challenges in Asia, a study by Independent Evaluation at the Asian Development Bank (ADB). It looks at the causes and consequences of the recent escalation and volatility of world food prices, and the implications for Asia and for ADB. It warns that if the problems of agricultural productivity are not addressed, it is quite possible that food security will be a recurrent world and regional concern in the coming decades, potentially jeopardizing Asia's economic growth.

Asia coped quite well with the 2007-2012 food crisis and world food prices seem to be stabilizing, albeit well above pre-crisis levels. Even so, underlying supply-demand problems laid bare during several years of price surges have not receded. Indeed, they present immense long-run hurdles for food security and inclusive rural growth. Slowing gains in agricultural productivity, overexploitation of natural resources, and increasing water scarcity are critical concerns on the supply side. As Asia becomes more urban and prosperous, this will push prices higher unless supply keeps pace with demand.

But climate change may well prove to be the greatest threat to food security over the next 10-20 years, and its impact on productivity is already being felt. The international community has not yet taken decisive action to control carbon emissions, increasingly considered the likely cause of climate change. If the world's regions cannot mitigate greenhouse gases, then countries must adapt, and adapt quickly. For food security, well-funded agricultural research, technology diffusion, and extension systems will be vital for climate change adaptation. Yet the funding situation is far from encouraging.

For securing more inclusive rural growth, Asia's small, resource-poor farmers - an estimated 350 million of them - must be able to participate in modern food value chains. Tackling persistent malnutrition is other big regional development challenge related to food security. Despite rapid economic growth and a big reduction in income poverty over the past two decades, Asia remains home to 67% of the world's hungry, some 552 million people.

The food price crisis - after decades of declining real prices - was a major setback to the region's poverty reduction efforts. Indeed, a recurrence of escalating, volatile world food prices is one of three major risks facing Asia, alongside climate-related disasters and the impact of the global financial crisis.

Whether the food policy prescriptions of the past three decades are still relevant in a world where food security and international trade flows seem less assured is under intense debate. The view of many practitioners is that both food importing and exporting countries need to find efficient and politically acceptable policies that protect the poor without simultaneously suppressing price incentives to farmers.

This Topical Report is based on Food Security Challenges in Asia, a study by Independent Evaluation at the Asian Development Bank (ADB).