Wetenschap - 13 maart 2014

‘Enough food in Asia’

Albert Sikkema

East Asia is threatened by food shortages in the coming decades, predicts the FAO. Nonsense, we are perfectly capable of meeting the increasing demand for food, says Maja Slingerland of Plant Production Systems

East Asia faces a race against hunger and undernutrition, predicted UN organization FAO this week at a conference in Mongolia. Harvests are failing with increasing frequency, due to drought and floods. In order to feed their populations in 2050, some countries in Asia and around the Pacific Ocean will need to increase their food production by more than 70 percent. Over the past 20 years, the annual growth in the production of grain and rice ranged between 0.6 and 0.8 percent. In order to feed the world in the coming decades, a stable annual growth in production of 1 percent is needed, according to the FAO.

‘But production is just one of the four indicators of food security,’ says Maja Slingerland of the Plant Production Systems chair group, which does a lot of research in Asia and Africa. ‘Besides production, other key issues are the accessibility and availability of food – consider purchasing power and markets. Thirdly, there is nutritional value – the quality and the nutrients – and fourthly, the stability and robustness of the food supply system. So you certainly cannot say that lagging production levels lead to undernutrition, because you can also buy that food on the world market, as the Arab countries do.’

But a food shortage can still arise in particular regions?

‘Certainly, but the question is still whether that is caused by too low production. Because up to now we can easily meet the demand for food. The proportion of the population of Asia facing food insecurity is still big, but the percentage of undernourished people has gone down. And the gap between potential and actual pro­duction is big in many places, so in principle there is sufficient scope to produce a lot more, even in Asia. But closing the yield gap is closely related to socio-economic factors, such as farmers’ access to the means of production and attractive markets. These factors seem to me to be more important than the unstable climate and crops with higher yields. If we close these yield gaps, we can feed far more than 9 billion people.’

Re:acties 1

  • Márcia

    Totally agree! Maja has nicely raised the importance of filling yields gaps, which is basically a gap between those farmers who have access and those who have not. In Brazil 34% of the rice is produced by smallholder farms, although yields can vary from 1 to 5 t/ha depending on how much rain falls and how fertile is the soil. There is scope for improving production stability in these systems via enhancing soil fertility and governamental programs that would guarantee access to technology, for example.