Jong Jin Kim
Sat 17 September 2022
Indeed, we live in a world filled with competing interests and disagreements. Yet despite this, there is an underlying, unifying interest that we all share. It is in all of our interests to have access to safe, affordable and nutritious food at all times. The question is, will there be enough food for everyone in the near future, and will it be produced sustainably?
The answer is not so affirmative without immediate action. Despite our common interest, this region is retreating towards increased hunger and malnutrition. According to a recent UN report, Asia and the Pacific are so far behind that it would take another 35 years to reach the Sustainable Development Goals – by 2065.
Some of the setbacks are obvious. This year in Asia and the Pacific we have witnessed droughts and floods, the highest food prices in decades, armed conflict in Eastern Europe and a lingering COVID pandemic. -19 which continues to threaten health, disrupt supply chains and livelihoods. Together, these factors have resulted in a five ‘F’ crisis – lack of food, feed, fuel, fertilizer and finance, and it is predicted that there could be cuts in grain production. next year due to fertilizer shortages in some countries in the region.
But even before these crises, the successive annual reports of the flagship publication of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the State of food security and nutrition, warned that the fight against hunger and malnutrition was stalling and then failing. In 2021, more than 400 million people in Asia-Pacific were malnourished, most of them in South Asia. In fact, of the billions of people in this region, 40% cannot afford a healthy diet.
For decades, as the world’s population grew, we took our collective gaze away from the ball of agrifood food systems. The world was producing enough food and there was little political appetite to upset the apple basket. Our agri-food systems were (and still are) a complex and interdependent system of planting, harvesting, transportation, processing, marketing and consumption.
The alarm signal came two years ago with the arrival of a global pandemic. While food production has not stopped, subsequent blockages and supply chain disruptions have taken a heavy toll on this interdependent system. For those of us in Asia and the Pacific, the pandemic and its fallout were occurring in tandem with other huge disruptors such as climate change, natural disasters, hazards and risks which account for 60% of deaths in the world and 40% of economic losses.
It has therefore become clear that we must urgently repair our agri-food systems by transforming them to withstand shocks and disruptions, and also seize this opportunity to make nutritious food and healthy diets more accessible and affordable for all.
Last year, the UN Food Systems Summit in New York was the world’s first major attempt to advance these plans. Now is the time to launch this transformation on the ground in our Asia-Pacific region. In other words, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and build a better apple cart. But it will take more than a few of us to get there.
Governments in our region must act with leadership. Asia-Pacific’s private sector, among the technology and innovation leaders, needs to expand its customer base to provide affordable solutions to smallholders in the region. Civil society, while continuing its important watchdog role, needs to work more proactively with policy makers and the private sector. Academia must accelerate its research, while resource partners must make this transformation their top priority, because to achieve this massive transformation, our region, indeed the world, must literally put its money where its mouth is.
More than 80 percent of the world’s smallholders and family farmers live off the land in this region and their interests and livelihoods must be safeguarded. Social safety nets and retraining programs to improve job prospects should be an important part of this transformation.
The good news is that, overall, there are a multitude of solutions available – policy- and evidence-based, regenerative, innovative and technological. These include strengthening actions for the sustainable management of natural resources, enhancing forest areas and restoring landscapes. The Asia-Pacific region benefits from thousands of years of agriculture-based systems and hundreds of generations of traditional knowledge that could be associated with a rapidly growing entrepreneurial ecosystem.
For its part, FAO’s mission is to support the 2030 Agenda by helping Member States and partners to build more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable agrifood systems for better production, better nutrition, better environment and sustainable development. better life, without leaving anyone behind. .
To kick-start the massive transformation of this region, FAO is organizing an Asia-Pacific Symposium on Agrifood Systems Transformation in Bangkok, October 5-7 (in-person and virtual). The response was impressive, with the buy-in of ministers from many member countries, as well as the private sector, academia and civil society.
Undoubtedly, this transformation will require massive public and private investment – and the political will to effect change. But if we don’t act, even the year 2065 risks being too optimistic.
This time, all eyes are on the ball, because no one doubts what is at stake. Not transforming our agri-food systems is not an option, it is imperative for our future and that of our children.
The author is Deputy Director General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.