Close to 650 million Asians are suffering from hunger and the situation will continue to worsen unless spending on the farm sector is dramatically increased, United Nations food experts have warned.
More than 60 million Asians became malnourished last year, raising the regional total to 642 million, Jacques Diouf, head of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), said.
“The sheer magnitude of food insecurity is the result of the low priority that has been given to agriculture in economic development policies,” Diouf said.
Food prices in Asia remain between 20 and 30 per cent higher than 2007 levels, FAO Asia Pacific director Hiroyuki Konuma added.
The world as a whole needs annual farm investments of $200 billion over 40 years to feed the world’s human population, expected to grow to 9.1 billion by 2050, he said. In Asia alone, $120 billion is needed each year.
“We have a shortfall of $40 billion for this region,” Konuma said. He added that governments had been lulled into complacency by farm-yield breakthroughs from the 1960s that raised farm outputs three-fold, lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty.
But he said in the ten years leading to the 2007 to 2008 global food crisis, annual output growth around the world stagnated for rice and wheat two of the most important cereals.
More than 25 per cent of Asian children aged five or under are moderately to severely underweight and more than a third are moderately or severely stunted, Asian Development Bank president Haruhiko Kuroda said.
“These statistics belie a crisis that will only get worse in the years to come unless immediate action is taken,” he said.“Add to this rapid population growth, climate change and water shortages, and the need for action is blindingly apparent.”