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
‘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.’