Talking food security in South Asia
Monday, 02 June 2008

South Asia is a region frequented by whims of nature. Like several African countries where food riots broke out this year, South Asian countries including Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are yet to recover fully from food shortages that mainly occurred due to recurring calamities. It is against this backdrop that cooperation among the South Asian countries needs to be intensified due to recent natural disasters and deficit in foodgrain production. Such cooperation has become more important in view of the World Bank’s prediction that food will remain costly for longer time. Happily, the South Asian countries have drawn up a new strategy to meet the challenges of climate change and agricultural production by setting a food bank to meet temporary crises in SAARC member-states. The countries in the region have been growing much faster in the last decade as compared to the decades following independence. With the exception of Pakistan, all countries in the region have experienced a growth rate of more than 4 per cent over the last several years. In Sri Lanka and India the growth rates have surpassed 6 per cent in selected years. Such increased growth in the national income should lend itself to improved food security for the population. Yet, human development across the countries in South Asia lags behind other developing regions as shown by the monitoring progress in human development across South Asia. All countries in the region have been producing an adequate amount of food at the national level. In fact, all the countries have been exporting some food although the amount of food exported from Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka continues to be insignificant. Food imports are very high for Bangladesh and Sri Lanka while some food is also imported by India, Nepal and Pakistan. Food balance is negative only for Bangladesh indicating that their imports are more than their exports and the local food production does not fully meet the local food requirements. While the growth rate of the South Asian economies has been increasing over the last ten years, and the poverty in the region has been declining, the region continues to be home to about 40 per cent of the world’s poor. The proposed Food Bank needs to be made operational at the earliest so that food-deficit SAARC member-states could meet the exigencies till they achieve autarky with technology assistance from other countries of region.

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