For the first time in history, the number of people suffering from chronic hunger reached one billion globally in 2009, with Asia accounting for approximately two-thirds of the world's hungry.
The future looks even more daunting. Population growth, increasing demand from changing diets, dwindling land and water resources for agriculture, higher energy costs, and the huge uncertainties regarding the effects of climate change present scientists and policy makers with additional challenges.
A new Task Force report jointly released on September 27,2010 by the Asia Society and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) brings together a pragmatic approach to public policy and the best science, with substantial input from key players in the field, to advance a comprehensive plan of action to address food insecurity and poverty in the region.
The report, Never an Empty Bowl: Sustaining Food Security in Asia, outlines a strategy focused on three key areas:
(1) Raising and sustaining the productivity of rice farmers, including improving resilience of crops to climate change.
(2) Increasing investments by countries and donor organizations in rural development, with the agricultural sector as the priority.
(3) Bringing food safety net programs up to scale at the national level with investments that target better health, nutrition and formal education programs.
To help bring about sustainable food security throughout Asia, the report calls for the creation of innovative public-private partnership arrangements, as well as partnerships involving different levels of government, civil society organizations, and donor organizations, in these three areas. Additionally, the Task Force recommends establishing a center for the coordination of food security activities in Asia to document the systemic nature of long-run food security challenges in Asia and identify appropriate systemic approaches to them.
"Poverty remains the single biggest factor contributing to food insecurity in Asia," says Task Force co-Chair M.S. Swaminathan, a leading Indian agricultural scientist considered the "Father of the Green Revolution in India" for his role in introducing and developing high-yielding varieties of wheat in India that saved millions from starvation in the 1960s and 1970s. "Two-thirds of the world's 1.4 billion poor people surviving on less than $1.25 per day live in Asia. They spend half of their income on purchasing food, mainly rice. For the extreme poor having access to adequate food is often too costly. A ‘pro-poor growth and pro-women strategy' is the only sustainable route out of hunger and poverty. Raising agricultural productivity is central to achieving overall economic development that reaches the poor."
February 22, 2011: Op-ed by C. Peter Timmer in The Wall Street Journal Asia
November 29,2010: "Bringing the Food Security Message to Hong Kong" (Asia Society Hong Kong)
October 3, 2010: Op-ed by M.S. Swaminathan, James Wolfensohn and Suzanne DiMaggio in The Huffington Post
September 27, 2010: "Partnering for Food Security" (New York Launch Event)
September 27, 2010: Task Force report covered in Bloomberg News
September 26, 2010: Task Force report covered by the Wall Street Journal
Suzanne DiMaggio, Director of Policy Studies, Asia Society
C. Peter Timmer, Thomas D. Cabot Professor of Development Studies, Emeritus, Harvard University
Robert W. Hsu, Senior Program Officer, Policy Studies, Asia Society
Task Force Members:
Vishakha Desai, President, Asia Society
Henrietta Fore, Former Administrator, US Agency for International Development
Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Secretary, UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific
Jikun Huang, Director, Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy and Chinese Academy of Sciences
N.R. Narayana Murthy, Chairman of the Board and Co-Founder, Infosys
Ong Keng Yong, Director, Institute of Policy Studies, National University of Singapore
Judith Rodin, President, Rockefeller Foundation
Ursula Schaefer-Preuss, Vice President, Asian Development Bank
Josette Sheeran, Executive Director, World Food Programmme
Vichai Sriprasert, President, Riceland International (Thailand)
James D. Wolfensohn, Former President of World Bank
Robert Zeigler, Director-General, International Rice Research Institute
Animation by Curt Saeui.