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Food Security Programme

Food security has become one of this century’s key global challenges with serious local repercussions. Rising world food prices in 2007–2008 triggered riots particularly in the teeming, impoverished cities of the developing world, where many people spend up to 75 per cent of their incomes on food. The rise in food prices prompted food-exporting nations to impose bans on exports in order to prevent price increases and public unrest at home. This further exacerbated food insecurity in importing nations. As a result of the food price rise coupled with the global financial crisis of 2008–2009, the number of malnourished people reached a historic high of 1.2 billion in 2009. This number has since declined to 925 million in 2010 as a result of a more favourable economic environment and the fall in both international and domestic food prices since 2008. The future challenges to food security are daunting; the world will need to increase food production by 70 per cent by 2050 in order to feed its estimated 9 billion people. This must be done in the face of changing consumption patterns, changes in the environment, and the growing scarcity of water and land. Ensuring food security therefore requires a new, concerted and immediate effort with a clear sense of long-term challenges and possibilities.


Core Research Areas

The core research areas to be examined by the Food Security Programme include: 

  • Establishment of Regional Food Security Information System

The overall objective of a food security information system is to strengthen food security in a region or a country through the systematic collection, analysis and dissemination of food security-related information. Southeast Asia has a region-wide food security information system, the ASEAN Food Security Information System (AFSIS). The AFSIS was established by ASEAN member states along with China, Japan and South Korea to promote regional food security. Its website contains important country data on all aspects of food security like production, prices, trade, etc. The AFSIS aims to be a one-stop shop for data and information on food security in East Asia. While significant progress has been made, the AFSIS’ full potential is yet to be realised. The RSIS Centre for NTS Studies’ Food Security Programme takes the view that the AFSIS’ effectiveness can be increased through a variety of measures, for example, capacity building, staff training, improved data collection methods and an improved communications strategy.

  • Food Security Indicators for Southeast Asia

This research area focuses on devising food security indicators specifically designed for Southeast Asia. Such regional indicators would incorporate a number of factors related to food security. They would assist policymakers to make informed decisions on the most appropriate type of interventions in the event of a crisis. Within the ASEAN and Asian region, various approaches are in use and have been tested by groups such as the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the World Food Programme (WFP). However, apart from the more strategic indicators, national entities charged with responding to impending food availability and access have also expressed the need for ‘early warning’ indices. The Food Security Programme will work with interested national entities and regional bodies to determine ways to link strategic to tactical needs and to develop systems that use selected indicators to avoid food insecurity.

  • Evaluation of Current Food Production and Productivity and Estimating Future Potential

Increased agricultural productivity raises household incomes and enables populations to achieve dietary diversity and good nutrition, and prevents malnutrition. Agricultural growth also lowers food prices, making food more accessible to the poor. However, agricultural productivity has declined over the years. According to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), the annual rice yield growth rate has dropped to less than 1 per cent in recent years, compared with 2 to 3 per cent during the Green Revolution period of 1967–90. Increasing rice productivity should be a major policy agenda because rice is more than a staple food crop in Asia. It is a ‘strategic’ commodity and any shortfall in production will have serious socio-political-economic consequences. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that agricultural production must grow by 70 per cent by 2050 in order to feed the projected 9.1 billion people. Specifically, annual cereal production will need to rise to about 3 billion tonnes from the current 2.1 billion and annual meat production by over 200 million tonnes to 470 million tonnes by 2050. In light of these issues, the Food Security Programme seeks to:

  1. Examine ways in which both food production and food productivity can be increased in the ASEAN region;

  2. Examine the various causes of yield gaps (e.g., management factors, environmental factors, the effects of climate change, technology or the lack thereof, and other factors such as insect-related loss);

  3. Look into the security of staple foods, e.g., rice, corn and wheat;

  4. Identify new technologies that can help the region to utilise scarce resources more efficiently;

  5. Conduct research on land and water availability in Southeast Asia;

  6. Explore whether Southeast Asian countries can produce enough food at affordable prices and circumvent an increase in food prices;

  7. Conduct a study on the possibility of large scale agriculture in the cities; and

  8. Examine the changing dynamics of food security.


» Programme Activities

Activities envisaged under the Food Security Programme include:  

  • Convening of Regional and International Conferences/Workshops

One of the key objectives of the Food Security Programme is to convene conferences and workshops to facilitate discussion among stakeholders and exchange ideas and knowledge on issues that affect food security.

The first Food Security Expert Group Meeting on Food First: Ensuring Food and Nutrition for Urbanites was held on 4–5 August 2010 in Singapore. The objective of the meeting was to:

  1. Scope out the context of ‘urban food security’ relative to global food security and rural food security;

  2. Explore the development of the AFSIS;

  3. Assist in developing a research agenda on urban food security, including identifying potential projects and collaborators; and

  4. Identify possible roles for Singapore in the global food system.

The Meeting was attended by experts, resource persons and participants from multilateral groups such as the World Food Programme (WFP), the Pacific Economic Cooperation Council (PECC), the ASEAN Food Security Information System (AFSIS); bilateral groups such as the International Development Research Centre (IDRC); international and regional research institutions like the IFPRI and the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA); universities like the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU); local and international agribusiness firms; and relevant Singapore government agencies

To learn more about the event, please click here.

A follow-up conference on urban food securitywill be held in August 2011.The conference will address the following issues:

  1. The challenges of ensuring urban food security; 

  2. The types of technology and policy options available to stakeholders;

  3. New initiatives to ensure food, feed and fuel security in Asia;

  4. The role of Singapore in addressing the challenges posed by the food problem

  • Generating Policy-relevant Reports and Studies

Through conferences and workshops as well as individual and team research, the Food Security Programme seeks to generate policy-relevant ideas and knowledge which will then be published in various forms. 

To find out more about our existing resources, please click here.

» The Team

  • Professor Paul Teng
    Senior Fellow (Food Security)
    RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies, and
    Professor and Dean
    Office of Graduate Studies and Professional Learning
    National Institute of Education

  • Dr Margarita Escaler
    Research Fellow
    Office of Graduate Studies and Professional Learning
    National Institute of Education

  • Dr John Jackson Ewing
    Post-doctoral Fellow and Lead (Food Security)
    RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies

  • Sally Trethewie
    Senior Analyst
    RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies

Posted on: 28/9/2010 10:29:00 AM  |  Topic: Food Security

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