Transforming Agriculture Key to Asia and Pacific’s Future and Survival

MANILA, PHILIPPINES (22 September 2021) — Governments in Asia and the Pacific must transform agriculture to make it more modern, climate-proof, and inclusive as the region recovers from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, according to a new report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

With 76% of Asia’s poor living in rural areas, raising agricultural productivity and income is key to fighting poverty, according to the theme chapter of Asian Development Outlook 2021 Update released today. The latest edition of ADB’s flagship economic publication urges governments to enact policies that integrate technology, infrastructure investments, innovation, and regulatory reforms to ensure food security and continued economic development.

According to the report, the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed an additional 75 million to 80 million people in developing Asia into extreme poverty. This in turn is causing greater food insecurity. Worldwide, hunger will surge by about a third this year, according to an assessment by the US Department of Agriculture. Of the 291 million additional people suffering from food insecurity globally, 72% are in Asia—particularly in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, and Pakistan.

“Agriculture has supported Asia and the Pacific’s rapid economic growth in recent decades, but multiple challenges are driving the need to modernize and transform the sector—from COVID-19 to climate change and urbanization,” said ADB Acting Chief Economist Joseph Zveglich, Jr. “Policies that support this transformation are crucial in order to put food on the table and protect the region’s recovery and sustainable development.”

Beyond the pandemic, climate change is the biggest challenge facing agriculture in Asia. Increases in extreme weather are threatening crop production and overall sustainability. From 2008 to 2018, Asia suffered $207 billion in crop and livestock production losses to disasters, or 74% of the global total, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. To address this, government policies can promote a range of solutions such as early warning systems for extreme weather, climate-resilient agricultural infrastructure and production practices, and affordable crop insurance.

Other challenges include the adverse effect of rapid urbanization on farm labor productivity; changing food preferences, such as increasing demand for meat; outdated infrastructure, particularly in terms of water and irrigation management; and obsolete government support measures.

Developments in areas such as aquaculture and digital technology have the potential to help transform agriculture in Asia and the Pacific. Aquaculture now accounts for about half of the world’s fishery production and is growing fast. About 90% of aquaculture production is in Asia. Meanwhile, digital technologies, including mobile phones and applications, can increase technical knowledge among the region’s 350 million smallholder farmers, helping them adopt innovative practices and get up-to-date market information.

Government policies should transition away from traditional production support, the report says. They should focus more on investing in research and development, encouraging innovation, and pursuing market-oriented development. At the same time, governments must protect the rights of farm workers, including migrants and women, to ensure everyone benefits from the sector’s transformation.

ADB is committed to achieving a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific, while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty. Established in 1966, it is owned by 68 members—49 from the region.

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