Food Security - cause for concern

The poor spend about 30-40% of their household budget on staple food and so the global instability in food staple prices has a devastating impact, said a leading authority on agriculture.

In his talk on ‘The Future of Food Security in Asia: What are the issues?’ at the WOU main campus, Prof C. Peter Timmer, Professor of Development Studies at Harvard University, USA said the three things people often worry about in global food security were supply, access to the food produced, and utilising food for nutritional health.

Prof Timmer speaks at the main campus.

Prof Timmer speaks at the main campus.

He however said that in the last decade, three more issues have come into play and these were sustainability of the resource base that produces the food supply, financial crisis that may block access to poor households, and instability that creates risk and vulnerability

Prof Timmer shared that land has increasingly become a trade-able commodity with a lot of FDIs by rich, land-scarce economies into poor, land-abundant economies. He cited Saudi Arabia and China as nations involved in ‘land grabs’ or overseas investment in land to guarantee food security in their own country, but he doubts FDIs in land will feature significantly in tackling global food security.

On the issue of resource, he said access to water for agricultural crops will have to compete with water for urban areas and related activities, and that a cheap, sustainable and renewable energy can solve a lot of food security problems.  

Prof Timmer also stated that climate and weather change has affected resource availability. “In the last 10-15 years, droughts, floods, typhoons, hurricanes, and tornadoes, are much more prevalent and intense. In last 20 years, we have had 14 of the hottest years in the century. We probably lost about 4% or 5% of crops productivity just due to climate change and global warming. That should be cause for major concern.”

The crowd at the talk.

The crowd at the talk.

He questioned whether technology will bail countries out, and suggested that future debates on global food security discuss on which nations are going to fund the technological research since it may take 20-30 years before a research produces something that farmers can use on the field.

About 70 people attended the talk organised by the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia and the Socio-Economic and Environmental Research Institute (SERI) Penang.