Food systems in South Asia at crossroads: IFPRI

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Desk Report:

Food systems in South Asia are at a crossroads and climate change is the most pressing issue the region facing with implications for the food security of already vulnerable populations, an international think tank has said.

“Increasing climatic variability, extreme weather events, and rising temperatures pose new challenges to ensuring food and nutrition security in the region,” stated the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

In its annual flagship publication – Global Food Policy Report 2018 – the IFPRI noted that South Asia region is one of the least integrated and suggested for better intraregional linkages and increased intraregional trade to help the region to grow.

IFPRI holds an event at a city hotel tomorrow (Thursday) to launch the Global Food Policy Report 2018.

IFPRI report said, “South Asia region is one of the least integrated internally: intraregional trade accounts for only 5 percent of South Asia’s total trade, whereas it accounts for 25 percent in Southeast Asia. Similarly, intraregional investment makes up less than 1 percent of overall investment.”

Global Food Policy Report 2018 stated that better intraregional linkages and increased intraregional trade will help the region to grow. “In 2018, South Asian countries are expected to reform their agriculture sectors, increase openness to trade, strengthen linkages with global food value chains, and take steps to adapt to climate change and weather uncertainties.”

It said, “South Asia is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Climate variables such as temperature, rainfall, flooding, and drought increasingly affect agricultural activities in the region. Most South Asian countries weathered some form of natural calamity in 2017.”

To cite a few examples IFPRI referred to last year’s flood in Nepal that affected about 1.7 million people and damaged more than 34,000 homes and to heavy floods in Bangladesh that damaged crops, including the country’s main food staple, rice. “Flooding and drought at turns plagued Sri Lanka as well as some 18 states in India, which saw a sizable drop in rainy-season food grain production as a result; and below-average rains sharply reduced 2016 cereal production in Pakistan,” added IFPRI.

It said, global food value chains and robust economic prospects offer untapped potential for prosperity in the South Asian region. “Equally important are efforts to increase efficiencies, reduce postharvest losses, and develop the agro-processing sector.”

It noted that rising exports, low oil prices, higher infrastructure spending, and supportive macroeconomic policies helped to make South Asia the world’s fastest growing region again in 2017, with economic growth projected to reach 7.1 percent in 2018.

“Growth across the region was not uniform, however, ranging from 0.6 percent in Nepal to 7.1 percent in both Bangladesh (a historical high) and India. Growth in agricultural gross domestic product (GDP) in South Asia also varied from country to country, shrinking by more than 4 percent in Sri Lanka in 2016, for example, and growing by 6 percent in Afghanistan. Agricultural GDP growth slowed in Bangladesh, but rose significantly in Bhutan and India.”

IFPRI report also observed that Bangladesh has achieved one of the fastest and most prolonged reductions in child stunting in the world.  “As of 2016, social protection programs covered 28 percent of households and accounted for around 12 percent of public spending (2.2 percent of GDP). With its National Social Security Strategy, Bangladesh is widening the scope of social protection to include employment policies and social insurance.”

It further said, “Through the Agriculture, Nutrition, and Gender Linkages (ANGeL) research project, the country aims to identify actions and investments in agriculture that will help improve nutrition and empower women.”

The Global Food Policy Report 2018 stated that Bangladesh is revamping its Public Food Distribution System (PFDS), instituting a nationwide electronic system for monitoring public food grain stocks, and implementing the World Bank-financed Modern Food Storage Facilities Project, which will construct eight modern steel grain-storage silos for rice and wheat and 500,000 silos for households in disaster-prone areas.

“Bangladesh is working to increase production of diverse, nutritive, and high-value crops by promoting the use of agricultural technology through policy reforms, regulations, and incentives. Moreover, the country’s efforts to liberalize input markets resulted in a greater supply of improved seeds and fertilizers as well as a burgeoning number of food markets and marketplaces where rural women can sell farm products.”

The South Asia chapter titled ‘Food Systems at a Crossroads’ in the Global Food Policy Report is co-authored by IFPRI Senior Research Fellow and chief of party, Bangladesh Policy Research and Strategy Support Program, Akhter Ahmed, its South Asia Director P K Joshi, Senior Research Fellow Stephen Davies and Research Fellow Anjani Kumar.
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