MANILA, Philippines – Asia needs to step up its fight against hunger and malnutrition.

Approximately two-thirds of the one billion hungry people in the world are found in Asia alone. Despite being a leading source of food, particularly agricultural products, the region is still hindered from achieving targets declared in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Furthering this problem is increasing food prices. According to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the spike in food prices between 2007 and 2008 pushed into hunger an estimated 100 million people.

In addition, the ADB also predicts that every 10% food price increase may push 64 million people into the hunger trap.

Meanwhile, data from the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) show that food inadequacy in Southeast Asian countries has decreased throughout the years although insignificantly. The problem is expected to continue – together with malnutrition and nutrition-related diseases – if nothing is done.

During the 21st ASEAN Summit in Cambodia in 2012, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) declared that food security is a state which “remains a major challenge for ASEAN and the world as a whole, at a time of high commodity prices and economic uncertainty.”

Long-term solution

Hunger and malnutrition are indeed a problem that takes more than short-term interventions to solve, according to UNICEF Philippines Country Representative Dr Lotta Sylwaner.

“We need better health access, adequate food supply, a better food system and an informed nation,” she emphasized. “These need to be part of any country’s plan against malnutrition.”

ASEAN leaders have been working on diminishing the prevalence of hunger in the region.

In 2009, the member-states released a statement in 2009 pledging to embrace food security as a “matter of permanent and high priority policy” and be fully committed in achieving the MDGs.

Finalized in 2011, the roadmap for the attainment of the goals include knowledge-sharing on best practices on how to properly achieve these goals, especially those concerning the health of the people.

This also includes realizing the urgent need for policy framework that includes strategies, actions, and measures to be enhanced along the way in line with the looming problems.

The same year, the ASEAN Integrated Food Security (AIFS) Framework was established to “provide scope and pragmatic approaches” to ensure long-term food security in the region.

This framework is in line with the Strategic Plan of Action on Food Security (SPA-FS) which has 6 strategic thrusts. Under these thrusts are specific action programs which will guide activities that can address the problems on food security in the region:

1. Strengthen food security arrangements

Action program 1: Strengthen national food security programmes/activities.

Action program 2: Develop regional food security reserve initiatives and mechanisms.

2. Promote conducive food market and trade

Action program 1: Promote initiatives supporting sustainable food trade.

3. Strengthen integrated food security information systems to effectively forecast, plan and monitor supplies and utilization for basic food commodities.

Action program 1: Reinforce the ASEAN Food Security Information System (AFSIS) project towards a long-term mechanism

4. Promote sustainable food production

Action program 1: Improve agricultural infrastructure development to secure production system, minimize post-harvest losses, and reduce transaction cost.

Action program 2: Efficient utilization of resource potential for agricultural development.

Action program 3: Promote agricultural innovation including research and development on improving productivity and agricultural production.

Action program 4: Promote closer collaboration to accelerate transfer and adoption of new technologies.

5. Encourage greater investment in food and agro-based industry to enhance food security.

Action program 1: Promote food and agro-based industry development.

6. Identify and address emerging issues related to food security.

Action program 1: Address the development of bio-fuels with consideration on food security.

Action program 2: Address impacts of climate change on food security.

The framework also enables member-states who are on the extremes when it comes to food inadequacy to learn from those who have improved in the long run.

In frequent conferences and meetings by several stakeholders in the community, government officials who are closely working on fields related to malnutrition and food security in their home countries are encouraged to participate to put insights in the whole picture of ASEAN’s fight.

Cooperation is important

However, to attain the intended goals of the framework, Sylwaner said that cooperation and camaraderie should be fostered among ASEAN member-states.

“The multidimensionality and partnership of ASEAN are important,” she explained. “In any given context, we need several actors to help end malnutrition.”

By pushing regional cooperation, there will be pressure to strive to maintain or reduce food price and to ensure that there would be emergency food for distribution among countries.

Trainings and information-sharing on how to better combat hunger and ensure food security will also be more operationalized and mainstreamed among ASEAN member-states under this framework.

The ASEAN motto of “One Vision, One Identity and One Community” speaks highly of partnerships and cooperation as prerequisites for attaining common goals, especially those in relation to health and nutrition. – Rappler.com