The recent global crises, from the food-fuel crisis to financial recession, have led to a sharp increase in the numbers of the chronically-hungry. The FAO is pressing for greater action to stem the global increase.
The number of hungry Asians rose by 50 million last year
The new campaign by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says that by 2050 Asia will be facing "enormous challenges" to feed its five billion population. Recent multiple crises have led to a sharp rise in those facing chronic hunger.
FAO HQ in Rome
Hiroyuki Konuma, FAO's regional chief for Asia and the Pacific, says more investment is needed because "the crises are still continuing and affecting the populations of the world.
"The world's chronic hungry population has increased very rapidly in the past two years. It got to 850 million around three to four years ago. At the end of last year, it reached over one billion. This is an issue where we need solidarity and all the assistance in the world."
Two-thirds of the world's hungry population in Asia
The Asia and Pacific region holds two thirds of the world's hungry population – 640 million people. The FAO estimates that over 50 million people were pushed into chronic malnutrition in 2009 alone.
Purushottam K. Mudbhary, the head of the FAO policy assistance branch, says there are signs of declining global food stocks, which means that food prices have remained at the same high levels of early 2008.
"This is why we need to step up investment in agriculture to increase food production. And one of the other reasons is that there has not really been a major technical breakthrough like we had during the Green Revolution, which made a major impact on agricultural production. The investment in agriculture has to be reinvigorated to stem the tide of this."
Countries such as India and China, that are experiencing major gains in economic growth, are seeing a greater demand for high-value products and livestock, which is also putting a strain on food stocks.
Southeast Asia generally better off than South Asia
"Relative to South Asia in aggregate terms Southeast Asia is much better off," says Sumiter Broca, an economist with the FAO. "But within Southeast Asia there are countries which are at a lower level of development – Myanmar, Laos because of the resource constraints and the Philippines, where there are major problems."
The FAO says that foreign investment in agricultural land is creating legal and ethical issues
The FAO also points to the recent surge of foreign investment in agricultural land. It says the investment is opening up complex economic, political, institutional, legal and ethical issues and their impact on property rights, rural development, technology and access to land and water.
However, the organization also says foreign investment in developing country agriculture could make a contribution to realizing important hunger and poverty-fighting goals.
Author: Ron Corben (Bangkok)
Editor: Anne Thomas