Indeed, we live in a world full of
competing interests and disagreements. Yet despite this, there is one underlying,
unifying interest that we all share. It is in all our interests to have access
to safe, affordable and nutritious food at all times. The question is will there be enough food for
all in the not too distant future, and will it be produced sustainably?
The answer is not so affirmative without
immediate action. Despite our common interest, this region is backsliding into
greater hunger and malnutrition. According to one recent UN report, Asia and
the Pacific is so off track, it would need an additional 35 years to achieve the
Sustainable Development Goals – in 2065.
Some of the backsliding is obvious. This
year, in Asia and the Pacific, we’ve witnessed droughts and floods, the highest
food prices in decades, an armed conflict in Eastern Europe, and a lingering COVID-19
pandemic that continues to threaten health, disrupt supply chains and
livelihoods. Together, these have resulted in a crisis of five ‘Fs’ – lack of food,
feed, fuel, fertilizer and finance, and it’s predicted there could be reductions
of cereal output next year due to fertilizer shortages in some countries in the
But even before these crises, successive
annual reports of FAO’s flagship publication, the State of Food Security and
Nutrition, were warning 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 percent cannot afford a healthy diet.
Transforming our agrifood systems is
vital to achieving all the SDGs
For decades, as the world’s population
grew, we took our collective eye off the agrifood food systems ball. The world
was producing enough food, and there was little political appetite to upset the
applecart. Our agrifood systems were (and still are) a complex, interdependent system,
of planting, harvesting, transporting, processing, marketing and consuming.
The wakeup call came two years ago with the
arrival of a global pandemic. While food production didn’t come to a halt, the
lockdowns and supply chain disruptions that followed took a serious toll on
this interdependent system. For those of us in Asia and the Pacific, the
pandemic and fallout were happening in tandem with other huge disrupters such
as climate change, natural disasters, hazards and risks that account for 60
percent of global fatalities and 40 percent of economic losses.
And so it became clear we urgently needed to
fix our agrifood systems by transforming them to withstand shocks and
disruptions, and also use this an opportunity to make nutritious foods 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 move these plans forward. Now it’s
time to get that transformation underway on the ground in our Asia-Pacific region.
In other words, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and build a better applecart.
But it will take more than just a few of us to do that.
Asia and the Pacific – time for action
Governments in our region must act through
leadership. Asia-Pacific’s private sector, among leaders in technology and innovation,
must broaden its customer base to provide affordable solutions to the region’s smallholders.
Civil society, while continuing its important role as watchdog, must work more proactively
with policymakers 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.
This transformation is about nature and people
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
reskilling programmes to improve employment prospects should form an important
part of this transformation.
The good news is that, overall, there are
plenty, and a variety, of available solutions – policy and evidence-based,
regenerative, innovative and technological. These include strengthening actions
to sustainably manage natural resources, enhance forest areas and restore
landscapes. The Asia-Pacific region benefits from thousands of years of
agriculture-based systems and hundreds of generations of traditional knowledge
which could be coupled with a fast-growing entrepreneurial ecosystem.
For our part, FAO’s mission is to support
the 2030 Agenda through helping Member Nations and partners build more
efficient, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable agrifood systems for Better
Production, Better Nutrition, a Better Environment, and a Better Life, leaving
no one behind.
In order to get this massive region’s
transformation underway, FAO is convening an Asia-Pacific Symposium on Agrifood
Systems Transformation in Bangkok, 5 – 7 October (in-person and virtual). The
response has been impressive, with government Ministers from many Member
Nations signing up, along with private sector, academia and civil society
joining in as well.
Without doubt, this transformation will
require massive public and private investment – and the political will to
effect the change. But if we fail to act, even the year 2065 may be too
This time, all eyes are on the ball, as no
one doubts what’s at stake. Failing to transform our agrifood systems is not an
option – it is an imperative for our future and that of our children’s.
Jong-Jin Kim is an Assistant
Director-General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific of the
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).