How to End Hunger in the Asia-Pacific Region

The 32nd session of the FAO Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific will convene in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia next week from 10 to 14 March 2014, hosted by the Ministry of Industry and Agriculture. The conference will focus on the opportunities and challenges in the region and priority areas of work to improve food security and nutrition, increase agricultural productivity, raise the standard of living in rural populations and contribute to sustainable economic growth.

The Zero Hunger Challenge was previously launched for the Asia-Pacific region with the coordination of UNESCAP, FAO and government leaders; some 40 representatives from civil society, development partners and UN agencies are currently working together to achieve Zero Hunger by 2025.

Photo: FAO/Matthew Lynn

Photo: FAO/Matthew Lynn

Ahead of the FAO Regional Conference, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva shared the following commentary in an opinion post for the Jakarta Globe, titled “How to End Hunger in the Asia-Pacific Region.” 

Looking out at the modern, gleaming skyscrapers in many of Asia-Pacific’s mega-cities, one could easily forget that this economic transformation masks an unmistakable reality.

While Asia-Pacific continues to record a higher economic growth rate than any other region in recent history, it remains home to nearly two-thirds of the world’s absolute number of undernourished. In other words, more people go to bed hungry each night in this region than in all the other regions of the world combined.

Micronutrient deficiency is another major challenge for the Asia-Pacific region. While many people might not “go hungry,” many are not getting enough micronutrients, the vitamins and minerals their bodies need to keep them healthy. If micronutrient deficiencies occur during childhood it can affect a child’s physical and mental growth. Stunted children can be found in many countries across the region where, in the worst cases, some 30 percent to 50 percent of children are affected. This hidden hunger affects two billion people worldwide.

But there is room for optimism. According to FAO’s latest estimates, the proportion of undernourished people in Asia and the Pacific has declined from around 24 percent in the early 1990s, to 13.5 percent by 2013. This means if we double our efforts it is possible to achieve the Millennium Development Goal hunger target of reducing the proportion of undernourishment by half, to 12 percent, by the target year 2015.

But we mustn’t stop there. We need to use the momentum to also lift out of hunger the remaining 12 percent. How could we leave them behind? Without eradicating their hunger, it shall not be possible to achieve sustainable development or an equitable and just society. And as we have seen time and time again, because of the link between hunger and conflict, a food-insecure world means an unsecure world.

Therefore, our goal must be “Zero Hunger.” As part of the United Nations’ Zero Hunger Challenge, FAO is committed to helping member countries eradicate hunger by 2025.

There are various challenges that we need to address to reach our goal of zero hunger. We need to waste less and produce more, sustainably. And we need to support small-scale farming. Family farmers already supply most of the food we eat in many countries, but are among the most vulnerable themselves. Most have limited room to upscale or intensify outputs. Meantime, we also see depletion of fish stocks. So we need to put our heads together to find solutions. These are challenges we know we must face, and we are indeed facing them collectively.

There are positive signs of progress and recognition. For example, we know we can prevent food loss and food wastage — which is as high as 30 percent in Asia and the Pacific. And we must work together to help those who work to supply us with the food we need. In this, the UN-declared International Year of Family Farming, we are duty-bound to support family farms and smallholders — the backbone of food production in Asia-Pacific.

In the case of Pacific Island Countries, there is an urgent need for public and private sector cooperation in order to facilitate investment in greater productivity and value chain efficiencies required to maintain their market share and food security. While the private sector can provide the bulk of agricultural investment, these investments need to be responsible and contribute to food security, and governments must create an enabling environment for that to occur, while implementing and enhancing social protection programmes for rural people.

That’s why governments from nearly 40 FAO Member States are gathering in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia this month to respond to these challenges. The delegates to the FAO’s 32nd Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific will work together to address issues to combat hunger. They are expected to make recommendations ranging from improvements to farmers’ and fishers’ livelihoods, within ecologically sustainable frameworks, to the restoration of forests and grasslands, intensification of food production and progress on a regional rice initiative, with campaigns to cut down on post-harvest food losses and wastage.

Together we can work toward a region and a world free from hunger, and one that reinforces the critical importance of all of those involved in producing the food we, and our future generations, need to carry us forward.