Innovations, Partnerships and Education Needed for Better Food Security and Nutrition in Asia

Dr Shenggen Fan, Director General of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), addresses Food Industry Asia (FIA) staff, member company representatives and stakeholders at the FIA Dialogue Session on 3 November in Singapore.

The private sector has a critical role to play in both supply- and demand-side solutions – including innovations, partnerships and consumer education – to tackle hunger and malnutrition in Asia, said Dr Shenggen Fan, Director General of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), at the most recent Food Industry Asia (FIA) Dialogue Session.

The problem of hunger and malnutrition in Asia

In his presentation, Dr Fan expressed that despite progress, hunger and malnutrition persist in Asia. It is a triple burden, he said, of under-nutrition, a lack of micro-nutrients and overweight and obesity. On one side, data shows that the majority, or 54 per cent, of the world’s hungry lives in Asia; while rates of undernutrition have fallen, the problem persists. At the same time, overweight and obesity rates are on the rise – in Southeast Asia, 22% of men and 28% of women are overweight and obese. It is estimated, between 2010 and 2020, that childhood overweight and obesity will rise by 43%.

Malnutrition is costly, said Dr Fan, but there are investing in improving nutrition has great returns. While malnutrition, undernutrition and obesity cost about US$3.5 trillion, US$2.1 trillion and US$1.4 trillion respectively, estimated benefits of reduced stunting at an accelerated pace are US$4.5 trillion for the East Asia and Pacific region, and US$2.15 trillion for the South Asia region.

The areas of food security and nutrition are further challenged by factors such as a rising middle class, urbanisation and consumers’ changing diets; climate change and extreme weather events; growing land and water constraints; and increasing agriculture-related risks and food safety scandals.

Dr Fan, IFPRI Director General, speaks on food security and nutrition in Asia.

Supply- and demand-side solutions to improve nutrition

As such, Dr Fan said, it is critical to have solutions on both the supply and demand sides of the value chain. On the supply slide, he proposed innovations in policy, technology and institutions. He touched on the importance of sustainable and nutrition-driven technologies, which would involve producing more nutrition with more efficient use of all inputs, as well as the promotion of better data, with open source knowledge hubs such as HarvestChoice and the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN).

Institutionally, he said that inclusive value chains and climate-smart solutions should be supported. Inclusiveness in the value chain would include helping smallholder farmers and improving farm-to-market synchronisation.

Dr Fan responds to a question from Professor Jeyakumar Henry (second from the right), Director, Clinical Nutrition Research Centre (CNRC), Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR).

On the demand side, Dr Fan recommends a “carrot and stick” approach: promoting behaviour change for healthier sustainable diets (carrot) and discouraging unsustainable, unhealthy diets (stick). Consumer education is necessary, he said, to raise awareness of the issues of food availability and appearance, in order to reduce food waste. It is vital to integrate nutrition education into social safety nets, so as to boost nutritional outcomes; this, in turn, would provide access to agricultural support to further improve food security and livelihoods. Additionally, Dr Fan touched on fiscal policies to drive the adoption of nutritious, sustainable diets, and industry’s key role in both supply- and demand-side solutions.

The private sector, Dr Fan said, has a critical part to play in scaling efforts to improve nutrition. This includes the part it already plays in driving the food value chain and wide diffusion of products to consumers. He gave the example of FIA member company Danone, which has developed low-priced, nutrient-fortified products and made them accessible to target groups. This example of the integration of affordability considerations into the research and development (R&D) process should be emulated, he said.

Justine Feighery, Head, New Partnership Development, Corporate Engagement Centre, Save the Children, poses a question to Dr Fan during the dialogue session.

Opportunities for collaboration

In welcoming collaborations with industry partners, Dr Fan provided three areas he said would be key for the work in improving nutrition:

1. Industry’s openness to be studied by research organisations – to gain knowledge and understanding of best practices and good examples – will be important. This will help in learning why efforts thus far have not worked, and how partners can continue to scale up moving forward.

2. Within the efforts to promote better data, he hopes for the open sharing of data between partners, particularly from industry – with its tremendous amount of data on consumer insight.

3. A whole-of-society interest needs to be addressed, in leveraging multi-stakeholder initiatives and partnerships, such as the Global Food Safety Partnership (GFSP). It is necessary to put a firewall in place so as to avoid conflict of interest, as well as sole-party interest.

FIA issues regular e-bulletins with analysis on relevant food and beverage industry issues across the region. To subscribe to this service, please click here