This Adelphi provides an analytical overview of the main trends and challenges related to food security in Asia, how key countries in the region are responding to these developments, and their implications for security.

The spike in global food prices in 2007–08 not only led to riots on several continents; it also reawakened fears about the world’s future ability to feed itself, as growing populations place greater demands on agricultural systems operating in increasingly difficult environmental and climatic conditions. With more than half the world’s people and high levels of inequality, Asia lies at the centre of the global food-security challenge of the twenty-first century. The region – especially China and India – is drawing on world stocks and importing more staples, as its own farms strain to meet its growing middle classes’ desire for more meat and processed foods. Meanwhile, the smallholder farmers who supply 80% of the continent’s food confront continued poverty, as they struggle to raise output in the face of creeping environmental degradation, looming water shortages and the unpredictable effects of climate change.

As this Adelphi shows, there are no simple solutions. Today, rice is exported while some households still go hungry, unrest grows as land is appropriated for biofuels or industry, and nations compete over waters and fishing rights. Only integrated policies that take into account the complex socio-economic and political aspects of food security have any chance of succeeding.

'Monika Barthwal-Datta provides a comprehensive evidence-based analysis of the past, current and expected future food security situation in Asia. She identifies the key drivers of global and Asian food security at the regional, national and household levels and assesses how these drivers may be influenced by government action. She concludes – and I agree – that failure to take appropriate action poses a serious threat to the stability of the region and the rest of the world.’
Per Pinstrup-Andersen, Graduate School Professor, Cornell University; former Director General of the International Food Policy Research Institute; winner of the 2001 World Food Prize

'Ensuring food security is a key strategic challenge of governments, especially in the developing parts of Asia where the pace of urbanisation is most pronounced. But unwise policies that fail to make food production sustainable will increase demand on limited resources of water and energy. This in turn will increase stress on the environment and exacerbate the impact of climate change. This Adelphi book provides useful insights into the complexity of this challenge, and some options that could be usefully considered by governments.’
Peter Ho, former Head of the Singapore Civil Service

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  • Introduction

    Asia sits at the heart of global food security, with more than half the world’s population and around two-thirds of global hungry and poor.  How countries in the region, particularly China and India, feed their citizens in coming decades is vital to the wider security of Asia and the rest of the world. The continent mainly comprises developing and low or lower-middle income countries that are struggling to cope with the forces...
  • Understanding food security

    Future global food security will require food production to keep pace with demand in an era of climate change, as populations continue to grow and diets diversify. However, there is more to the challenge than simply ensuring adequate supplies of food. Although enough is currently produced to feed everyone on the planet, nearly one billion people remain chronically undernourished. Therefore, ensuring more equitable access to food is another vital part...
  • What is driving food insecurity in Asia?

    Asia is at the heart of the many different changes in food consumption and production that are driving twenty-first century concerns about food security. Although the rate of population growth in Asia has slowed, the number of people continues to rise, and by 2050 the region is still expected to account for around 55% of the world’s 9.6 billion people. More Asians are also moving to cities, with implications for...
  • How Asia has fed its citizens

    Despite dire predictions in the mid-1990s that some leading Asian nations would become a burden on the global food system, many have so far managed to remain largely self-sufficient in major grains. In recent decades, great steps have also been made in reducing poverty in Asia. Between 1990 and 2009, for example, those living on less than US$1.25 a day fell from 1.57 billion to 733 million people. Granted, the...
  • Challenges of sustainability, resilience and adaptation

    The Green Revolution that swept through much of Asia from the 1960s onwards allowed many countries in the region to become self-sufficient in staples. However, some of these countries are now reaching a tipping point where their continued ability to feed themselves is no longer assured. The challenges are greater than during the Green Revolution because the world now needs to feed more people with rapidly diversifying diets, using less...
  • Where policies fail

    Despite looming food-security challenges, many national policymakers remain preoccupied with other pressing objectives, such as attracting foreign investment and ensuring energy security. When governments do turn to food considerations, unfortunately their approach too often remains limited in scope and vision. Food security in developing Asia continues to be understood largely in terms of supply and demand, of production and consumption, without fully recognising that other policy goals, such as foreign...
  • Conclusion

    The geopolitical impact of Asia’s astounding economic growth over the last two decades has been such that this is already being called the ‘Asian Century’. China and India have enjoyed spectacular rises as global economic heavyweights, while other countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Thailand have grown rapidly. However, this is only one side of the story. An equally important aspect is that, as home to...

Monika Barthwal-Datta is Lecturer in International Security in the School of Social Sciences, University of New South Wales (UNSW) Australia. She is also the author of Understanding Security Practices in South Asia: Securitization Theory and the role of non-state actors (Routledge, 2012).

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Food Security in Asia

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