A perfect storm of events have combined to create the worst threats to global food security in decades, highlighting the need for coordinated action to halt a worrying surge in hunger, and to respond to longer-term challenges to the very future of sustainable food production.
Pressures on food security are coming from multiple sources. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is the main driver of food price inflation but other factors are at play including the ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic which has disrupted food supply chains, macro-economic challenges, and the imposition of trade restrictions by some countries which have affected the availability of a number of food commodities.
Hovering over these issues, is the even greater challenge of climate change which is already having deep and lasting impacts on agricultural production, with a recent study showing that global farming productivity has been suppressed by 21% as a result of climate extremes. Scorching heat waves and droughts in major growing regions of the northern hemisphere during the summer of 2022, and extreme flooding in many parts of the world, including East and South Asia, are ominous signs of a rapidly worsening climate problem.
In developing assistance packages for developing member countries, ADB is mindful of the need for longer term actions to help mitigate the risk of future crises, as well as providing immediate support for vulnerable populations.
Chief of the ADB Rural Development and Food Security Thematic Group, ADB
Currently millions of people are facing chronic food shortages. Record price spikes in food and fuel threaten to push many low-income families, who spend a large proportion of their household budget on these commodities, into extreme poverty. Asia and the Pacific is in the eye of this storm with half of the world’s 600 million people classified as hungry, living in the region.1
In Sri Lanka, food price inflation has exceeded 90% and, combined with a debt crisis, is threatening to push millions into a prolonged period of hunger and poverty, while countries, such as Bangladesh and Pakistan face severe localized food insecurity. Spikes in global interest rates that have led to capital flight and currency depreciation have hurt many ADB developing member countries (DMCs) with heavy food import needs, such as Cambodia, Fiji, Georgia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Nepal, Philippines and Thailand. While some food prices and trade restrictions had eased by July 2022, and grain shipments from Ukraine have resumed, prices remain sharply elevated from a year ago and the outlook for food security remains deeply uncertain. The rising cost and shrinking availability of fertilizers because of the Russia-Ukraine war is a major concern.
Responding to the crisis
How Asia and the Pacific’s policymakers and their partners, including the Asian Development Bank (ADB), counter these challenges will have lasting and profound impacts on the region’s food future.
“Short term food security issues are not independent from long-term challenges, and while food price increases are seen as a particularly acute threat today, the food security issue could become systemic due to the adverse impact of climate change on agriculture” said Qingfeng Zhang, Chief of the ADB Rural Development and Food Security Thematic Group. “In developing assistance packages for developing member countries, ADB is mindful of the need for longer-term actions to help mitigate the risk of future crises, as well as providing immediate support for vulnerable populations.”
ADB is doing just that in its operations. In Sri Lanka it is repurposing existing sovereign projects to boost social protection programs, with expanded cash transfers and livelihood support for the food insecure. In the Philippines, a voucher program is being developed for pregnant and lactating women and their children to improve their access to nutritious food. Through its private sector operations, ADB is providing critically-needed agribusiness, trade and financial intermediary support to private sector involved in food and agriculture activities, with $2.2 billion during 2022.
Climate-related disasters and water stress are having severe adverse impacts on food production and supply across Asia and the Pacific.
Ensuring stable and affordable food supplies is central to keeping millions out of extreme poverty.
Climate resilient and green food systems
The increasing severity and frequency of extreme climate events, meanwhile is alarming. In India, the world’s second-largest wheat producer, drought conditions are expected to cause an 8% decline in yields in 2022 and Bangladesh experienced devastating flooding in May and June 2022 that created serious food shortages.
These impacts come on top of other long-term pressures on food production, including unsustainable farming and fishing practices, inefficient value chains, changing food consumption patterns and worsening water shortages with water demand expected to exceed supply in Asia by as much as 40% by 2030. With demand for affordable energy also growing, farmers are coming under pressure to convert food crops into biofuel, further undermining food resources.
Building up the ability of DMCs to respond effectively to the climate crisis is now a central priority for ADB, and in 2021 it raised its ambition for climate finance spending to a cumulative $100 billion between 2019 and 2030. One of ADB’s most important goals is to expand the adoption of nature-based solutions to protect the environment and ensure sustainable food production.
The UN Environment Programme, estimates that nature-based solutions have the potential to lift 1 billion people out of poverty and create an additional 80 million green jobs, including in the food production sector.3 Conversely if business-as-usual practices are allowed to continue, biodiversity losses could wipe out as much as 63%, or $19 trillion, of Asia and the Pacific’s combined GDP.4
To drive adoption of these solutions, ADB is developing an Innovative Natural Capital Financing Facility to attract natural capital investments. This will help protect land, water and biodiversity and build resilient and green food production systems. ADB is also exploring greater use of digital technologies that can help make food production and agricultural value chains more efficient and productive, such as the broader use of satellite imagery to provide farmers with detailed crop yield information and other data, and the adoption of blockchain to boost information sharing and reduce transaction costs.
The scale and gravity of the food crisis has prompted international development, trade and financial organizations, to call for urgent collective action and the issue is now a top priority for the G20 group of countries. For its part, ADB is working closely with a wide range of partners, including Agence Française de Développement, Food and Agriculture Organization, IAEA, OPEC Trust Funds, and World Food Programme to scale up support for food security in DMCs. That includes joint projects, as well as knowledge exchanges, which allow ADB and its partners to keep abreast of the latest food security developments in the region. Learning from the 2008 food crisis, collaboration and coordinated actions has been the cornerstone of ADB’s response to the current food crisis and will continue to be so.
“If our region and the rest of the world is to prevent this crisis from causing even more hunger and misery then we must act together to ensure a coordinated release of food stockpiles, facilitate open and smooth trade, provide social safety nets for the most vulnerable, and support smallholder farmers to maintain current agriculture production, along with making longer-term investments in food systems to make them more productive, sustainable and resilient to climate extremes,” said Mr. Zhang “Anything less will jeopardize achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, including the critically important goal of ending hunger and malnutrition by 2030.”
1 ADB's Focus on Agriculture and Food Security
2 Agriculture and Food Security: Knowledge
3 Op-ed: Why Nature Matters - Qingfeng Zhang
4 Article: Nature-Positive Investment Cuts Through Global Crises