Food system transitions in India may have profound impact on regional and global food system

National, September 11, 2018: Today Cargill along with FICCI and EIU launched Fixing Asia’s Food Systems, a five-part research programme that explores a range of issues and is centred around a survey of 400 business leaders in the region. The first piece, “Separate Tables: Bringing together Asia’s food systems”, is a deep dive into six key megatrends: urbanisation, the double burden of undernutrition and obesity, technology constraints, the need for transparency and sustainability, and politics.

The report was unveiled by Smt. Harsimrat Kaur Badal, Hon’ble Union Minister for Food Processing Industries in Delhi today. An interactive discussion on the challenges and opportunities ahead which was organised during the launch had Prof. Ramesh Chand, Member, Niti Aayog, Madhavi Das from FSSAI and other industry captains.

With Asian cities set to expand by 578m people by 2030 and upto 85% of the increase in the global middle class expected to come from Asia, urbanisation will have significant effects on food production and demand in the region, says the study. China, India and Indonesia alone will account for 75% of Asia’s total population and 60% of its real GDP by 2030. Income growth in Asia will continue to drive the transition away from direct consumption of cereals and towards more diverse diet. Dairy products and eggs account for a larger proportion of calories consumed in India (6%) and China (4%) than in Indonesia (1%). India has a strong vegetarian culture, but projections estimate that India’s meat consumption (mainly chicken and fish at 63%) will rise to 9 kg by 2050, from a base of 3 kg.

People will continue to need access to food that is affordable, safe and nutritious. According to the study, Asia is home to nearly two-thirds of the world’s malnourished. Across Southeast Asia an estimated 60 million children under the age of five are stunted. One in five children in India are wasted (low weight for height). The government can extend the progress made through policy changes, regulatory measures and encouraging public investments to make our food systems more responsive to nutritional needs. Improvements in nutritional status will not happen unless the incomes of rural households increase, prices of nutritious foods are kept affordable, and households are better informed about nutritional content of food and the need to diversify their diets. Fortification and reformulation focus is already underway in India, ensuring availability of nutritious food to under nourished population.

On the other hand, there are indications that developing countries have a strong interest in sustainability. However, estimates suggest that sustainable products are 30% more expensive than traditional products, which means the shift towards sustainable food is likely to be led by higher-income countries in the period to 2030. The report also mentions R&D in food production in Asia will remain a key driver of agricultural development. India’s investment in R&D needs to be increased from the current figure of 0.40% of the agricultural GDP to enhance productivity, manage resource scarcity and climate change to help achieve objective of increased farmer remuneration.

And lastly, politics will continue to play a key role in food systems due to divergent interests and resource scarcity. A balance is needed between the approach of protecting farmers’ interests through the use of subsidies, price floors or trade barriers and consumer interests as this may come in the form of higher prices for consumers. By 2030, Asia is projected to need 65% more water for industrial use, 30% more water for domestic use and 5% more water for agricultural use. This increased need for water (coupled with declining resources) will drive water politics between upper and lower riparian countries. More technology intensive farming is the need of the hour, for ex-climate smart agriculture, precision and vertical agriculture.

The research shows that business leaders overwhelmingly agree that there is cause for alarm around Asia’s food security. The solutions include greater collaboration to enforce food safety standards, educate farmers and improve supply chain infrastructure. Yet a number of other factors—including differing regulations, border policies, import duties, taxes, food cultures, self-sufficiency programmes and uneven economic development—require more robust thinking and policy solutions for Asia’s food system to truly make the needed progress.

Future articles in the series will go deeper into fragmented supply chains, structural changes in Asian diets, water challenges, and innovation’s role in creating new solutions and foods for the future. Together, “Fixing Asia’s food systems” provides both an in-depth and comprehensive overview of the challenges all stakeholders need to address and a collection of potential solutions to help drive change at the pace that’s needed.

“As Asia’s population grows and urbanises, it is imperative that regional co-operation improves and food supply chains become smarter, better integrated and more efficient,” says Rashmi Dalai, an EIU managing editor and the project manager for Fixing Asia’s Food Systems. “However, this is no easy task. A complex ecosystem of often divergent policy and societal concerns needs to be brought into alignment. This can only be done by first agreeing on the issues at hand and the urgency with which they need to be addressed.”

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