The rising challenge of our fragile food security

Published: 4:02 AM, August 22, 2013
Updated: 7:10 PM, August 22, 2013
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The world is being haunted again by the spectre of a global food shortage.

Demand for food over the next decade is expected to increase by 1.1 per cent annually. But global food productivity gains have declined from 2 per cent in 1970-2000, to 1.1 per cent today — and are continuing to decline.

A 2011 study reported that the world consumed more than it had produced for seven out of the past eight years. These concerns will lead to growing attention paid to the nexus between food, water and energy resources, especially as climate change is expected to have an increasing impact globally.

Nineteenth-century economists struggled with the Malthusian dilemma: As populations rose, it was assumed that a forced return to subsistence agriculture would act as a check on population growth. The reality was that the opening of new agricultural land, technological innovation and higher-yielding crops resulted in a capacity to feed an ever-growing population.

However, as once-autarkic economies such as China and India have opened to global trade — and more wealthy societies are eating more protein, consuming more calories and enjoying more varied diets in recent years — there is growing concern with the fragility of the global food system.

These concerns were highlighted by the spike in food prices and disruptions in food supply during the 2007-2008 global food crisis.


My colleagues at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies have emphasised that governments need to work with the private sector and other key stakeholders. Instead of piecemeal strategies, an integrated and holistic approach to policy formulation and implementation is critical to deal with the four dimensions in food security: Availability, physical access, economic access and utilisation.

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