Challenges Facing South Asia

BISA PhotoIn 1969, Borlaug predicted that the Green Revolution boost in food production could not last, and was only a reprieve for humanity to develop more sustainable systems and policies to manage its population growth and use of natural resources. Borlaug’s warning came true with the 2008 food crisis and the hungry surpassing one billion in 2009.

Although progress has occurred, South Asia is slipping into another food and nutrition security quandary. Climate change, land scarcity, shrinking groundwater tables, population growth and increased affluence (which leads to significant dietary changes) are testing South Asian farmers and their governments. Also, the technologies that enabled the region’s first Green Revolution mainly benefitted high-potential irrigated areas, while farming practices in dry land and rain fed areas remain largely unchanged.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that climate change alone could result in a 20 percent reduction in South Asia’s annual wheat production by 2030, amounting to US$ 7.7 billion in crop losses per year. By 2050, climate change may reduce maize production in the region by 6 to 23 percent and wheat production by 30 to 40 percent. Challenges to crop production will be exacerbated by continued soil degradation, ground water depletion, extreme weather events and biotic stresses (including outbreaks of diseases and insects/pests). These impacts on food and nutritional security will be compounded by the growing population and changing dietary habits.

The extremely high density of the region’s population, over 50 percent of which is employed in agriculture, means that unlike other parts of the globe, there is virtually no land available for agricultural expansion. As a result, the need to produce more with less is a particularly difficult challenge in South Asia.