Development Challenge

Asia, with the predicted highest level of global population growth in the 21st century, faces a tremendous food security challenge to feed its people. Climate change and a loss of arable land to urbanization exacerbate the problem. The quality of arable land is degrading due to over-intensification of monocropping, misuse of pesticides, and soil salination caused by frequent droughts. Economic and social exclusion, largely due to gender, caste, and ethnic discrimination, intensifies the problems of poverty and malnutrition. Asia also has the highest concentration of poverty worldwide. This is combined with high malnutrition rates among women and children under five, leading to high levels of infant and maternal morbidity and mortality. Asian economies, farming systems, and diets are highly dependent on a small number of commodities—in particular rice and wheat. These are internationally traded food commodities subject to market fluctuations, which have led to severe spikes in the price of food in recent years, further increasing food vulnerability of the poor and related social unrest. Poor populations also continue to experience nutrition vulnerability due to monotonous, low micronutrient diets and the relatively low economic value of cereals.

Adoption of strategies is urgently needed to address food and nutrition insecurity in low-income countries. Diversification of farming systems is a strategy already being pursued by several Asian countries to increase economic and nutritional value and help ease the strain of food price inflation, especially in times of economic crises. Of particular importance will be the sustainable intensification of existing systems with nutritious, versatile, and high-value crops that are less susceptible to the vagaries of international trade.

Potato is a high-value food security crop. It can be adapted to a wide range of cropping systems in subtropical, temperate, and highland environments to help low-income consumers cushion the impact of food price inflation and achieve higher income levels from on-farm and added-value options. Potato cultivation in the region, however, is unevenly distributed: China and India alone account for about 79% of the area as well as of production. Shortage of good quality seed has been recognized as one of the most important factors limiting potato production in Asia. An important step towards food security is the inclusion of potato as a food security crop in the national plans of China, India, and Bangladesh, creating political will and an enabling planning framework for expansion. The Second Phase of Central Asian Countries Initiative for Land Management addresses land degradation and increased productivity of land resources in Central Asia with a focus on potato as a food security crop. Climate change will have a serious impact on fragile environments of Central and South Asia, with a yield decrease by 30% from now to next mid-century, due mainly to higher temperatures that will lead to greater water demand for agriculture. As a heat-tolerant, low water consumption crop, potato is ideally adapted to alleviate some of the impacts from climate change. Asia is the most disaster-afflicted region in the world, accounting for about 89% of people affected by disasters worldwide. Potato is increasingly being recognized as a disaster mitigation crop, further solidifying its role in overall food security.

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