Tuesday, October 2, 2012

TFT HK at "Feeding the World: Asia's prospect of plenty"

Last week, members of TFT HK were invited to attend a conference on Asia's role in alleviating the global food imbalance, hosted by The Economist.  During "Feeding The World: Asia's Prospect of Plenty", held at the Harbour Grand Kowloon, "leaders from the food and agribusiness industry, government, academia and advocacy organisations" tackled this pressing and complex topic from a variety of angles.

The conference consisted of four panel discussions, break-out sessions in which participants discussed potential solutions to issues put forth by the panel speakers, and a special interview with Melinda Gates via video link. The first panel introduced the current state of food and nutrition security, globally and in Asia (Speakers: Percy Misika, FAO Representative in China, DPR Korea and Mongolia, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; Shenggen Fan, Director-general, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI); Anil Jain, Managing Director, Jain Irrigation Systems; Brett Rierson, Director, China Office, UN World Food Programme), the second touched on trade and its relation to food insecurity (Speakers: Kevin Rudd, Member, Australian Parliament for Griffith, Former Prime Minister, Government of Australia; Stan Ryan, Corporate Vice President, Cargill Agricultural Supply Chain Worldwide; Jose Cuesta, Food Price Watch author, Senior Economist, The World Bank;Saurabh Bhat, President and Managing Director, Development and Sustainable Banking, Yes Bank, India; Raoul Oberman, Chairman, McKinsey & Company Indonesia), the third focused on agriculture in Asia (Speakers: Rusman Heriawan, Vice Minister of Agriculture, Government of Indonesia via live video link from Indonesia; Tamarat Wanglee, Adviser to the Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives, Government of Thailand; Robert Zeigler, Director-general, International Rice Research Institute; Gao Yu, China Country Director, Landesa; Claudio Torres, Regional Vice President, Asia-Pacific, Monsanto; Davor Pisk, Chief Operating Officer, Syngenta), and the fourth honed in upon health and nutrition in Asia (Speakers: Walter Dissinger, President, Nutrition & Health Division, BASF Group; Jeffrey Klein, President and Chief Executive Officer, The Global FoodBanking Network; Umran Beba, President, Asia-Pacific region, PepsiCo; Johann Vollmann, Professor and Soy bean breeder, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna).

Currently, the world produces enough food to feed all of its 7 billion people. Yet, as we so often state, 1 billion people are currently malnourished, undernourished, and/or starving. The earth's population is expected to swell to 9 billion people by 2050, and experts estimate that we must double our current food production in order to meet the projected demand. Asia as a whole is presently a net importer of food, and yet over half of the undernourished people in the world are from the Asia Pacific region; thus, as John Parker, Globalisation Editor of The Economist, stated during the conference's opening, "The future demand for food must be met by Asia itself."

The panel members argued that production must be ramped up to meet Asia's and the world's demands for food in the coming years, but warned that the use of new agricultural technology and biotechnology must be used with sustainability and environmental health in mind (China is currently using more fertilizer and pesticides than any other country in the world). They urged the world's governments to start prioritizing global food security, to invest more into agricultural research, to address issues of price signaling (several argued that food is too cheap in the developed world, and that its price should and must reflect social impacts such as carbon emissions), to provide support for smallholder farmers (who make up the largest percentage of the world's farmers), and to attend to issues surrounding land rights and food waste (in developing countries, food waste largely occurs post-harvest, because of inadequate storage facilities; in the developed world, most food waste is produced by consumers, after purchase). The issue of food security is incredibly complex: we have the technology to increase food production, but it is often too expensive for, and thus inaccessible to, those who need it most.  In addition, the use of such technology (especially genetically modified organisms and chemical inputs) may have long-term costs that outweigh the benefits of their use. Moreover, prosperity and adequate calories may not mean optimal health – many in the developed world suffer from nutritional insufficiencies; obesity; and so-called “lifestyle” diseases, related to diet.

Global food security is a complicated, multi-faceted issue—one that often feels too big for us to address as individuals or even as organizations. Though we cannot easily and simply “solve” the global food imbalance, we can make a difference, by engaging in dialogue and continuing to seek solutions; raising awareness; and taking small steps toward healthier, more balanced food systems. Many thanks to The Economist, for creating an opportunity to discuss global food security, for inviting TFT HK to join the conversation, and for donating to our organization.

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