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Asia faces urgent need to address food insecurity, population growth

New research from The Economist Intelligence Unit reveals importance of innovation to bolster Asia’s food system.

Krissa Welshans

November 28, 2018

3 Min Read
Asia faces urgent need to address food insecurity, population growth

New research commissioned by Cargill and conducted by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has revealed an urgent need for Asia’s food systems to innovate as its population continues to expand, its cities get more crowded and its natural resources become depleted. The study explored how Asia’s food producers are innovating to meet the region’s growing demands in the face of greater urbanization and climate change threats.

According to the report, Asia has rich natural assets, including major rivers such as the Yangtze, Mekong, Ganges, Brahmaputra and Indus, as well as large lowland areas, which together create fertile alluvial plains and deltas. Further, its wealthier countries have significant scientific capacity, including the latest innovations in genome editing. However, the report suggests that there is no guarantee that Asia’s food system will prosper.

“Behind the headline statistics, productivity growth is stalling in a number of countries due to environmental degradation, the limited availability of new arable land and the pressures of climate change,” the report noted.

Thankfully, it said innovation and technology are now helping tackle these problems. For example, the report pointed out that agricultural producers are already adopting a wide array of innovations and technologies, including vertical farming in urban Asia, solar-powered irrigation in rural Bangladesh, genomic editing, synthetic meat production and precision agriculture in Singapore, Japan and China and low-cost apps and mobile services that help smallholder farmers access information, financial services and training in Nepal, India and Bangladesh.

“These innovations are already reducing environmental damage, improving yields, cutting food waste and helping the region adapt to the era of climate change,” the report noted, but added that wider adoption of these innovations -- and continued improvements to them -- will be necessary to offset growing environmental and climate challenges.

“Technology, whether basic or cutting edge, will be key to improving efficiency, which, in turn, will impact all the processes along the supply chain and beyond,” said Peter Van Deursen, chief executive officer of Asia Pacific Cargill. "Ultimately, though, our ambitions are simple: Give the farmer and his family a decent living, give people affordable, safe and nutritious food and make agriculture and food supply chains sustainable."

Through surveys of 820 regional business leaders, along with desk research and expert interviews, EIU found:

  • 75% of respondents say their company spends more than 15% of the research and development (R&D) budget on food- and agriculture-specific innovations.

  • 51% say developing environmentally safer packaging is a top R&D priority.

  • Innovation development costs, an inadequate research base and insufficient patent protection top the list of innovation challenges food producers face.

“Helping Asia face these impending food system challenges will require ingenuity, commitment and strong collaborations across countries and industry stakeholders. Farmers must also play a critical role in developing the necessary innovations, from the discovery phase through delivery. Their input will ensure new solutions are effective and able to be adopted by the food producers who need them,” said Rashmi Dalai, EIU managing editor for the program.

Van Deursen said achieving food security has many challenges but added that the EIU research helps clarify how the challenges can be addressed in order to prevent the situation from reaching a critical level.

“At Cargill, we see the benefits of technology and innovation to provide the creative solutions necessary to nourish the world and end food insecurity for people across Asia,” he added.

About the Author(s)

Krissa Welshans

Livestock Editor

Krissa Welshans grew up on a crop farm and cow-calf operation in Marlette, Michigan. Welshans earned a bachelor’s degree in animal science from Michigan State University and master’s degree in public policy from New England College. She and her husband Brock run a show cattle operation in Henrietta, Texas, where they reside with their son, Wynn.

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