Session I: “Challenges to Food Security of Asia”
Prof Qiang Xiaoyun,
Centre for Russian-Central Asian Studies, SIIS, China
Honorable delegates to CICA forum,
Ladies and gentelemen,
I am thankful to the CICA Secretariat for inviting me to this meeting of think tank forum. I am sure that the wide participation in the forum will enrich the understanding of member states about the common challenges of food security.
Food security of nations has acquired a critical dimension in the wake of increasing population, geo political stresses the world is facing and the experience of Covid-19 pandemic. The food crisis of 2004-6 was a distant memory till the Russian-Ukrainian crisis and the blockage of ports in Black Sea resulted in complete stoppage of food exports from Russia and Ukraine for several months. The Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) is the right forum to exchange ideas for providing long term food security to Asian countries. India has been a major exporter of food items in the last few years and it will continue to play a critical role in providing food security to several member countries of CICA.
The world’s population was 3 billion in 1960, 6 billion around 2000 and 7 billion in 2010. In November 2022, it reached 8 billion. As per the projections of the United Nations, the world’s population may increase to around 8.5 billion in 2030 and 9.7 billion in 2050. By 2080s, it is projected to reach a peak of around 10.4 billion people.
So, food security will continue to test the effectiveness of national policies in raising the productivity of agricultural production. Doing so in an environmentally sustainable manner is one of the major tasks humanity faces today. India’s population is projected to overtake China in 2023. It is therefore imperative that productivity of crops, livestock, poultry and fisheries rises in India also so that it can continue to feed not only its own population but it can also export food items to other countries.
In India, millets are grown in arid and semi-arid regions as they are drought tolerant. For millions of Indians, millets have been important source of amino acids, vitamins, minerals and fibre. They are gluten-free and have a low glycaemic index. At India’s initiative, the United Nations declared 2023 as the International Year of Millets. Members of CICA will do well to promote the consumption of millets in place of refined food grains like wheat and rice.
Challenges: Climate Change
Today, the most important global issue having an impact on food production is environmental sustainability.
We have seen in COP 27 Sharm El Sheikh Conference that the world is moving fast in the direction of 1.5°C temperature. At the global level, renewable energy contributes just about 8.2 percent of energy. Asian nations will do well to take concrete steps to bring sustainability and low carbon emission to govern its economic policies as agriculture and food production see an immediate impact of adverse climate event.
The three pillars of food security are well known. It means that food has to be available in sufficient quantity on regular basis and people have ability to get adequate and nutritious food. Lastly, the dietary needs of people should be satisfied without sacrificing cultural preferences.
Impact of Covid-19
Covid-19 pandemic has caused an increase in poverty in several regions of the world and Asia is no exception. Several Asian countries and members of CICA have seen higher unemployment and lower earnings of most people. This has adversely affected the food security of large population in these countries.
Food inflation coupled with income losses would have adversely impacted the access to nutritious food for large number of people in Asia. FAO has found through Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES) that people in several Asian nations had reduced access to food.
The last food crisis on 2006-12 was a result of price movements in energy and financial markets. The current crisis is largely a result of war in Europe.
Asian countries will do well to take steps to increase agricultural productivity as land area under cultivation has reached its limit in most countries.
Technology already exists for raising productivity of several crops. The challenge is to achieve this while reducing the land area under intensive cultivation. In several regions of members of CICA, water resources are under stress due to over use of underground water. In north western region of India, water levels have gone down. Similarly, Aral Sea, once world’s fourth largest lake, has now shrunk by more than 90 per cent of its size, because of the re-routing of its source rivers. Conservation agriculture will therefore have to remain in focus in the agriculture policies of Asian nations and members of CICA.
While increase in production is important, challenge of nutrition, especially of children, also demands equal attention. Despite the availability of food, several countries have high levels of child malnutrition. Mid-day meal programme of India is a major initiative under which freshly cooked food is served to children in the schools. Other countries can also adopt similar policies to check child malnutrition.
For all the major food crops, existing technology can raise productivity per unit of land and water used and, to some degree, help countries adapt to climate change using conservation agriculture. Water is still used inefficiently in many regions of Asian countries while some countries of Asia are pioneers in use of micro-irrigation technology. There is a need to explore the use of such water saving technology in all the water stressed regions of Asian countries.
The importance of agricultural research for food production is well known. In India the Indian Council of Agriculture Research has released several varieties of seeds which have resulted in higher production of several crops particularly rice and sugar cane. For horticulture crops, the private companies have developed successful hybrids which has resulted in substantial increase in production of fruits and vegetables. It is desirable that such knowledge is shared across countries so that the production of food is localised to a large extent.
In the last three years, India has been a major exporter of rice, wheat, sugar, marine products, buffalo meat and spices. Maize and several other fruits and vegetables are also exported from India. Several Asian countries are major importers of Indian food products. India has the potential to partially meet the needs of several members of CICA. Investment in agriculture and food processing from CICA countries into India can provide a fillip to such potential.
The members of CICA should explore areas of collaboration with each other in agriculture and food sector so that food does not travel long distances, across oceans. This will be CICA’s contribution to mitigating climate change.
Mr Hussain is a former Agriculture Secretary to the Government of India. He is promoter Director of a think tank, Arcus Policy Research Private Limited.