What is food security and why does it matter in Asia?

Asia has a population that is heavily on the rise. More people also of course means that more food will need to be produced. More food, in turn, requires more land, more water, more energy…

This all becomes a concerning thought when considering that, even now, hunger and access to nutritional food is one of the most pressing challenges in Asia. According to the Asian Development Bank, 68% of the world’s underweight children are in Asia and the Pacific. Yet simultaneously, with what has been referred to as the paradoxal “two faces of Asia,” an increasingly large number of people are also over-nourished, overweight, or obese.

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“A crowded market in Dhaka, Bangladesh (2010)” — Photo Credit: IFPRI IMAGES

These topics all come together in the examination of food security.

As defined at the World Food Summit in 1996, “Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”

I live in metro Manila, a place where under-nourished children are frequently seen begging for food on the streets in, paradoxically, a country that simultaneously also has one of the highest rates of childhood obesity. Like many other countries in the region, the Philippines is becoming increasingly urbanized, is importing ever more food, and has a steadily growing population.

It’s upsetting to see so many hungry people and so much food waste at the same the time. Looking at these many obstacles, it seems that we still have a while to go towards a food-secure Asia.

Luckily, more and more social entrepreneurs are stepping up to the plate to make a dent in these issues without waiting for others to do so.

There are an incredibly diverse array of social enterprises focused on food security and sustainable agriculture in the region. A couple that have been inspiring me lately are tackling an array of big challenges in the region, such as increased urbanization, increased reliance on imported food, and increased prices for consumers and farmers.

A) Urbanization: City living is is seeing a surge in the region. By some estimates, by 2025 around 60% of the population in Asia and the Pacific will be living in urban zones. Urbanization is accompanied by a host of challenges: destruction of arable land to nourish the country; reduced access of individual families to subsistence farming; increased necessity for transportation of food (which, among other problems, costs more, requires more energy and fuel, reduces nutritious quality of produce); etc. To nourish the population of today and tomorrow, finding more sustainable ways to feed urban populations is key.

So what can we do? In Singapore, an incredible initiative called Sky Greens was the first enterprise to prove that vertical gardening can be a viable business model. And not just economically viable — Sky Greens produces a tonne of fresh vegetables everyday, which are then sold locally.

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Photo credit: http://www.skygreens.com/

B) Reliance on imported food: The Philippines is a country blessed with the diversity of food it can grow. The best chocolate I’ve tried in my life is Philippine-grown as well as the juiciest mangoes and array of colorful vegetables…accordingly, it’s heartbreaking to see how much lower-quality chocolate the country imports, and that it’s the world’s number one importer of rice.

This follows a larger trend of Asia and the Pacific increasingly relying on imported food. The danger of this shift takes many forms, ranging from imported food being frequently less nutrient-dense to the frightening possibility of a block one day in this trade route. As countries become more reliant on imported food, they are simultaneously losing their autonomy and lessening their resistance in the face of a possible geopolitical crisis. For many countries, this is a risk of extreme proportions, such as for Singapore, which imports over 90% of its food.

Sky Greens, of course, addresses this challenge as well, but another especially inspiring initiative worth learning about, started in the United Kingdom, is Incredible Edibles. Growing increasingly concerned about the nation’s nearly full reliance on imports, citizens started planted edible plants in public space throughout the city, allowing students, families, policemen — anyone — to grab a healthy snack on the way to work, at school, while at church...

I don’t know about you, but I would LOVE to be able to do this in Manila!

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Photo credit: Arthur Edwards, National photographer.

C) Rising costs of food for consumers and producers: The price of food has been rising in Asia since 2004. I would love to see all farms turn back to organic farming, but in many places farmers are under strong pressure to adhere to the pressure of multinational corporations of intensive monoculture, GMO seeds, with harsh pesticides. One of the most interesting enterprises I’ve come across is tackling this problem from a pretty different angle: crowdfunding for farmers. In order to give farmers more choice, and in turn give consumers better choices, let’s give them more funding options!

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Photo credit: cropital.com

Through Cropital, citizens can invest their money in local Filipino farmers, providing the capital these farmers need to create good quality products and a return on investment for the user.

Cool, right?

Inspired by these projects? There’s some good news: initiatives similar to these around the region are looking for your support to help them grow (no pun intended)!

How can you get involved?

MakeSense, an organization that supports social entrepreneurs and helps people step into action on causes they care about, is currently launching a track on food security. What does that mean? MakeSense will be working with volunteers from across the world to support social entrepreneurs who are working towards food security. We’re on the lookout for social entrepreneurs to support and volunteers who want to support them. We’ll be putting on lots of events and trying to get serious traction on the topic!

If you are looking to start up an agriculture-related social enterprise, want to help one out, or just want to learn more, this is your tribe!

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If you are curious about launching a mini-Gang in your city focused on food security to connect with social entrepreneurs and join the global movement, get in touch with MakeSense at rachel@makesense.org. Let’s get as many people as possible on board to work towards a more food-secure Asia!

But before signing off, I’m going to give the final word to Leo here to tell you a bit more about why you should be involved:

https://www.facebook.com/makesensefanpage/videos/10154035605938793/

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Rachel is helping the MakeSense community to grow in South East Asia.
She is working with the different Hotspots to get citizens involved in solving social startups’ challenges.

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