Economic stimulus must address food crisis in Asia-Pacific – UN report

24 April 2009

Any economic recovery must take into account that the global financial catastrophe has spiralled into a food crisis for the 583 million people struggling to make a living across the Asia-Pacific region, according to a new United Nations report released today.

The UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (ESCAP) study warned that rising unemployment and falling incomes, on top of already high food prices, are increasing the pressure on the poor and vulnerable in the region.

Raising concerns over the return of pressures that drove food prices to historic highs last year once the global economy recovers, the “Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security in Asia and the Pacific” report stressed that the food crisis must be addressed as part of the response to the global economic meltdown.

“Efforts at stimulating the economies also provide us a window of opportunity to address the systemic issues related to food insecurity,” said Noeleen Heyzer, ESCAP Executive Secretary.

She noted that “while the world’s attention is very much on the economic crisis, food insecurity remains a real threat.

The study re-affirms that poverty is the leading cause of food insecurity in the Asia-Pacific region, which is home to 62 per cent of world’s undernourished. The lack of access to land also prevents many poor people from growing their own food. Other causes for food insecurity range from low farm revenues to volatile fuel prices and speculation.

Protectionist trade policies pushing up food prices is another cause of food insecurity highlighted in the study, as most countries in the region meet their national needs through imports.

The new report recommends improving the ability for people to buy or access food through the development of social protection schemes such as minimum wage, unemployment benefits, “food-for-work” programmes, basic health care and agricultural insurance as short-term measures.

In the longer-term, food availability at the national level can be promoted through trade and investments in sustainable agriculture and small scale farmers will be important.

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