Global hunger has been on a regrettable rise in recent years, and despite Asia’s economic clout, the continent — home to more than half of the world’s undernourished — has not been spared. Now, COVID-19 is leading to a slowdown of regional economic growth and further threatening food security.
Southern Asia is particularly vulnerable, with the number of chronically-underfed people projected to rise by almost a third to 330 million by 2030. It is also the only subregion in the world where more than half the children from the poorest fifth of society are stunted — a condition that prejudices their futures.
We need to find ways to increase resilience across our food systems by identifying new marketing channels (like e-commerce), increasing efficiency to reduce losses, and improving the quality of products available and storage facilities, which are critical to flows of healthy foods and income to those who produce them. Inclusive access to finance to strengthen and expand rural supply chains is also crucial.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations has recently launched a new comprehensive COVID-19 Response and Recovery Programme to provide an agile and coordinated global response aimed at ensuring access to nutritious food for everyone by mobilising all forms of resources and partnerships at the country, regional and global level. In line with the UN agenda to “build back better”, and in pursuit of the SDGs, the new programme aims to mitigate the immediate impacts of the pandemic while strengthening the longer-term resilience of food systems and livelihoods.
So we are making headway, but we must, as a priority, attend to the most urgent issues at the very source by enabling farmers to be more dynamic, entrepreneurial and competitive through continual innovation. We need smallholder farmers to produce nutritious foods, without fear of crop failures, and we also need to get those foods to the mouths of the hungry across the region and beyond. To do this, smallholders desperately need access to financial resources, technology and innovation.
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