October 21, 2013

Hunger set to take a huge toll in Asia in coming years: ADB

Even as water and land resources are dwindling, demand for food is multiplying rapidly in the whole of Asia. Ensuring food security to combat intensifying hunger and poverty will be of prime concern for the region, according to ADB. It said despite rapid economic growth, food insecurity and inequality remain a reality for millions in the Asian and the Pacific region. High food prices also erode the purchasing power of households and undermine recent gains in poverty alleviation. Governments need to be cautioned to devise safety nets as quickly as possible to avert a catastrophe.
Manila: The Asian Development Bank (ADB) predicted at its Annual Meeting of Board of Governors that the problems of hunger and poverty would intensify in the Asia and Pacific region in years up to 2050. Delegates to a seminar on food security of the 45th annual meeting which ended Saturday in Manila were told that Asia, which is home to most of the world's poor and undernourished populations, is finding increasing difficulty in feeding its people as demand for food expands rapidly just as water and land resources decline. "One of the key challenges for developing Asia will be ensuring food security in the face of competing rural demands, poor agricultural management, and climate change, while not compromising on equitable economic growth," said Xianbin Yao, Director General of ADB's Pacific Department. Despite rapid economic growth in Asia, food insecurity and inequality remain a reality for millions in Asia and the Pacific region. The situation is most dire in South Asia, where six out of 10 of Asia's hungry reside and eight out of 10 underweight children live. Meeting the rising demand for food, animal feed and biofuel will result in higher regional food prices. Despite the reduction in poverty rates across Asia in the late 2000s, the pace of poverty reduction was slowed down by food price hikes. A recent ADB study estimated that a 30 percent increase in food prices can reduce GDP growth in some of the food importing countries by as much as 0.6 percentage points; if the rise in food prices was also accompanied by a 30 percent rise in the fuel prices, the projected decline in GDP growth rates for these countries could be as high as 1.5 percentage points. High food prices also erode the purchasing power of households and undermine recent gains in poverty reduction: an ADB study estimated that a 10-percent increase in domestic food prices in developing Asia, home to 3.3 billion people, could lead to a 1.9- percentage point increase in poverty incidence, equivalent to pushing 64.4 million into poverty (based on a 1.25 U.S. dollars-a- day poverty line). The ADB urged Asian and Pacific governments to find ways to provide well-targeted safety nets to protect the poor from hunger, and recommended governments set up a "hunger alleviation fund," representing 1 percent of a country's GDP, to be used when food prices grow beyond the reach of the poor. The funds could be jointly managed with the private sector, with companies encouraged to contribute using incentives such as tax breaks. Targeted subsidies would deliver help to those who need it most. Other measures discussed at the ADB seminar include reduction of food waste and storage losses which could close the gap between supply and demand by 15 percent to 25 percent; the importance of a second Green Revolution, which relies on biotechnology to increase food production; Weather-based crop insurance; as well as futures contracts that would give farmers a guaranteed minimum income for their crops.

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