Insights and Analysis

Fostering Regional Integration for Shared Food Security

July 7, 2010

By V. Bruce J. Tolentino

Despite tremendous economic growth achieved over the past two decades, hunger continues to beset much of Asia. Estimates show that there are 850 million hungry people globally. Of this total, at least 550 million are in Asia, indicating that some 16 percent of all Asians are in a state of hunger. This is a stubborn challenge for Asian governance.

Mill factory in Cambodia

The efficiency and productivity of the food and agriculture sector has immense bearing on the welfare of entire populations. Above, workers shift grain bags at a mill factory in Cambodia. Photo by Karl Grobl.

Food security for all can only be attained if the problem of hunger is recognized as a shared challenge – one that can only be overcome by better sharing of resources and communication, as well as coordination among nations through regional and global integration and the fostering of open trade and exchange, particularly of agriculture and food.

To examine the critical issues surrounding this global challenge, The Asia Foundation joined hands with the Asian Development Bank (ADB), UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) for a major conference “Food for All: Investment Forum for Food Security in Asia and the Pacific,” at the ADB headquarters in Manila from July 7-9, 2010. The forum brought together key decision-makers in agriculture and food security to discuss ways and means toward shared food security and agriculture sector prosperity.

Douglas Bereuter, president of The Asia Foundation, moderated a key plenary session on “Fostering Food Security Through Regional Cooperation and Integration.” In particular, the session, sponsored by The Asia Foundation, focused on the coordinating and facilitation roles of the key regional associations – namely the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS). Eminent food security economist Peter Timmer layed out the challenges, opportunities, and likely action points toward achieving shared food security, while

ASEAN’s Deputy Secretary-General Pushpanathan Sundram, SAARC’s Director Riaz Hamidullah, and PIFS’ acting Director for Economic Governance Shiu Raj participated as panel discussants.

The widespread suffering that the 2008-2009 food price crisis has caused emphasizes that open global trade and exchange is crucial for shared food security. Nations have different natural resources and endowments that determine their agricultural production, marketing and storage capacities. Unnecessary and unexpected constraints on trade flows disrupt food supply chains and cause price spirals that hurt consumers and producers across borders.

The efficiency and productivity of the food and agriculture sector has immense bearing on the welfare of entire populations and thus necessitates policies and management that promote the interests of the whole, not just a few. In this globalized age, effective governance must recognize cross-border interdependencies in food supply chains which demand collaboration and cooperation among countries for mutual benefit. The stalled Doha multilateral talks on agricultural trade should be revived, and regional fora such as ASEAN, SAARC, and PIFS should be mobilized as platforms to share crucial intelligence and strategy for shared food security, including food stocks and production forecasts. By bringing together dedicated experts and key stakeholders in one room to debate how this can be done, this conference has strong potential to help.

V. Bruce J. Tolentino is The Asia Foundation’s Director for Economic Reform and Development Programs. He can be reached at [email protected].


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