The Emerging Role of Agriculture in Asia

Dr. Shenggen Fan, Director General, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
29 June 2011
Special Seminar

The most effective and sustainable actions must be country-led and country-owned. If Asia is to face the challenges brought about by the dynamic changes in agriculture, its people should be empowered to develop their own strategies, building from their capacities.

This was the key message that Dr. Shenggen Fan, Director General of the International Food and Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), conveyed at SEARCA’s Agriculture and Development Seminar held on 29 June 2011.

In outlining the challenges that Asia faces in agriculture, Dr. Fan noted that 13 countries in the continent experience hunger. Food security has been under stress due to many factors: population growth and urbanization, land degradation and water scarcity, high and volatile food prices, rising energy prices and biofuel expansion, and lower agricultural yields due to climate change.

Dr. Fan also said that 70 percent of poor Asians depend on agriculture for livelihood. However, agriculture has shown declining trends in its share of Gross Domestic Product, farm sizes, and yield in staple crops maize, rice, and wheat.

He added that food consumption and production has diversified as people consume more eggs, milk, meat, fruits and vegetables. Gender equality has improved as women now make up part of the agricultural workforce. However, conflicts related to agriculture due to poverty, unemployment, and inequalities in land, water, and other natural resources have risen.

Given Asia’s situation, Dr. Fan suggests redesigning policies and investments to promote agricultural growth for broader development outcome.

His proposed actions to enhance food security in Asia include investing in productive social safety nets; supporting transparent, fair, and open trade; setting up regional strategic grain reserves; preventing biofuel expansion relative to cereal production; and promoting smallholder productivity.