By Shada Islam
Asian and European policymakers meet in Chiang Mai, Thailand, today to discuss joint efforts to improve global food security.
As world food prices soar, triggering fears of a repeat of the 2006-2008 food crisis, experts warn that a sustained 10 per cent rise in domestic food prices in developing Asia, home to 3.3 billion people, could push an additional 64 million people into extreme poverty.
The meeting in Thailand on May 9 and 10 will look at the food security situation in many individual Asian countries and consider the experience of ASEM partners in tackling this problem (including the European Union’s one-billion euro food facility 2009-11).
The talks are part of the ASEM (Asia-Europe Meeting) partnership launched in 1996 to foster closer cooperation between the European Union and Asian countries.
“Food security is a global issue which involves all ASEM members because of its effect in both developed and developing countries,” says a paper prepared by Thailand ahead of the two-day meeting.
World food prices increased by 56% in 2006-2008, resulting in heightened malnutrition and hunger rates across Asia and other parts of the developing world.
There is growing concern that the world is headed for a similar crisis.
Thailand, as a key food-producing country, agreed to take the lead on food security issues at a meeting of ASEM heads of state and government held in Beijing in 2010.
The talks in Chiang Mai follow close on the heels of a meeting of the board of governors of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in Hanoi, Vietnam, which warned that inter-related issues of water, food, and climate change must be addressed head on to prevent the erosion of gains made in the global fight against poverty.
In a report released ahead of the annual meeting, the ADB warned that the increase in prices for many Asian food staples is “likely to continue” and could badly undermine the recent gains in poverty reduction made in Asia.
Poor families in developing Asia spend over 60 per cent of their income on food compared to a 10 per cent expenditure on food in developed nations.
A combination of factors, including population increases, rising food consumption in emerging economies, rising oil (and therefore fertiliser) prices, the use of grain to produce bio-fuels and a decrease in crop yields due to climate change are identified as some of the reasons for the current food crisis.
ASEM, with its diverse membership of food producers, exporters and importers, and bringing together countries at different levels of development, can provide a strong platform for cooperation and consultation on tackling food security challenges.
Asian and European representatives in Chiang Mai are expected to share their experiences, exchange best practices on food security as well encourage joint agricultural research initiatives.
Questions discussed will include ways of improving farmers’ livelihoods, promoting agricultural innovation and technology transfers and ensuring food security arrangements in case of emergencies.
Shada Islam is a journalist in Brussels with a long experience of EU-Asia relations. This is a part of a series of articles being published by Ecorys Research and Consulting, as member of the COWI Consortium which is under contract to the European Commission, to look at different aspects of the multi-faceted Asia-Europe relationship. This article represents the views of the author and does not commit the European Commission in any way.