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Food security in ASEAN

Updated: May 23

The United Nations (UN) Agenda 2030 envisions society and human rights through seventeen (17) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). From these 17 SDGs, SDG 2 focuses on hunger, food security, nutrition, and sustainable agriculture to achieve 'Zero Hunger by 2030'. The term "food security" refers to three dimensions: the physical availability of food, economic and physical access to food, food consumption, and the stability of these three dimensions through time. Food security has been acknowledged as a critical global, national, community, family, and individual challenge.

In fact, in 2019, food security and nutrition were already quite dreadful in Asia and the Pacific. It has resulted from the agricultural-based countries in Asia experiencing improvements in agricultural productivity and moving towards industrialized countries. In addition, the population in Asia are projected to increase by 8% and 16% in the year 2030 and 2050, respectively.

Food security has abruptly raised serious concerns and has become an existential threat on a global scale.

However, the most intriguing question is, apart from the economy, does food security matter to Asians, especially in ASEAN countries? How do these factors affect food security in ASEAN?

As of mid-2022, the Southeast Asia (SEA) region accounts for 14.3% of the Asian total population. Compared to other parts of the world, Southeast Asia consists of a few countries, also known as ASEAN, which are relatively small compared to other areas such as Europe, Latin America, and Oceania. Intensive efforts must be undertaken to ensure the achievement of the SDGs and the notion of Zero Hunger in Southeast Asia. Further, the 2022 Global Hunger Index shows the rising hunger issue and affects the previous remedies in combating hunger issues worldwide.

The Global Hunger Index (GHI) score is calculated on a 100-point scale, with 0 for no hunger (best) and 100 being the worst. The scores are based on four indicators, namely, the country’s undernourishment, child wasting, child stunting, and child mortality levels and divided into five categories as follows: low (≤ 9.0); moderate (10.0–19.9); serious (20.0-34.9); alarming (35.0-49.9) and extremely alarming (≥50.0).

Figure 1: ASEAN Global Hunger Index scores from 2012 to 2022

ASEAN Global Hunger Index scores from 2012 to 2022.

Figure 1 shows the ASEAN countries' scores based on the GHI from 2012 to 2022, except for Brunei and Singapore, since both countries have no GHI scores. The GHI scores show that countries like Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, and the Philippines are still combating and regarded as a severe category until 2019. Laos (green line) had the worst impact during the Covid-19 pandemic as the scores hiked (from 25.7 to 34.9) and almost went to an alarming state of hunger which can lead to health issues such as stunting, malnutrition, wasting, underweight and poor economic problem, lower GDP per capita, poor human capital development and others. According to the ASEAN Food and Nutrition Security Report (2021), All ASEAN countries suffer severe nutritional problems for children and adults except Brunei and Singapore. It aligns with data from GHI that show these countries faced inadequate food in some parts of the country, while Brunei and Singapore are facing these issues but are less severe than the other ASEAN counterparts. 

Climate change also poses a significant risk to food security. Agriculture in ASEAN heavily relies on the weather due to its geographical location, as large coastal areas surround ASEAN and expose them to extreme climates such as floods, storms, soil erosion, and wildfires. Severe weather could disrupt agriculture's production, eventually impacting the food system and availability. For instance, due to climate change, cereals, maize, and sugarcane are projected to decrease output by 2050. Besides that, most ASEAN countries are warm, with the temperature swinging between 25 and 35 degrees from cool to hot seasons throughout the year, due to being close to the Equator, which is one of the critical factors for the agriculture industry. Extreme weather may influence food quality and safety, where lower protein, micronutrients, and Vitamin B could be found in rice cultivars due to the high carbon dioxide concentration.

Food security is a multifaceted issue.

World Food Summit 1996 had outlined that food security is the condition in which all people constantly have physical and financial access to an adequate supply of safe, nourishing foods that satisfy their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. Food security is primarily based on four pillars that must be equally satisfied: physical availability, economic and physical access to food, food utilization, and stability of the other three dimensions over time. Therefore, ASEAN should seek a comprehensive approach to developing resilience, as the abovementioned challenges may impact a country's food security. Thus, an effective measurement dan decision must be undertaken to alleviate the risks and to develop policies that could address the current state of food security, particularly in ASEAN countries.


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