Building Resilience: Solving the Asia-Pacific Food Crisis – The World


Executive Summary

The world is currently in the midst of a global food crisis that began in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic and worsened after the outbreak of war between Russia and Ukraine in 2022.

Adding to the crisis are ongoing extreme weather events linked to climate change, which are increasing in frequency and severity across the globe. One of the results of this ‘multiple crisis’ is that populations around the world have struggled with food insecurity for most of the past four years.

Although the effects of the current political crisis are felt around the world, in the Asia-Pacific region, the impacts have been particularly severe. In order to better understand the impacts of the ongoing political crisis on food security in the Asia-Pacific region, this report investigates diets, nutrition, and food system resilience during the crisis in six selected countries – Bangladesh, Philippines, Pakistan, Democratic Lao. The Republic, Sri Lanka, and the Kyrgyz Republic.

Through this investigation, the report provides relevant insights into the shocks each country faced during the crisis and assesses the resilience of their food systems against those shocks. In addition, it provides much-needed data on the impact of these shocks on diets and nutrition in each country.

First, the scoping review examines the existing evidence on the impacts of the ongoing crisis in the six selected countries.

Key findings include:

  • Domestic food production has declined since the pre-crisis period in all six countries.

  • All six countries experienced significant food inflation during the crisis.

  • Consumer purchasing power fell in all six countries during the crisis, a decline disproportionately felt by women and young people, small-scale producers, and migrant and seasonal workers.

  • Diet diversity and quality declined in all six countries during the crisis, with women and children the most affected.

  • The use of food-based and livelihood coping strategies increased in all six countries during the crisis.

  • The consequences of the crisis were felt greatly in both urban and rural areas.

Next, a conceptual model that illustrates the relationship between the food environment and changes in food security and nutrition is used to better understand the impact of the crisis on diets, nutrition and resilience. Key findings include:

  • From 2019-2021, the number of food imports decreased, while the value of food imports increased.

  • The value and proportion of “NCD risk” food imports increased, as did the volume of sales of “risk” foods.

  • Overall household income increased but the share of income spent on food remained the same or rose.

  • When incomes decrease, these decreases relate to the sale of “NCD risk” foods.

  • The cost of diets is rising, with larger increases in the cost of a nutritious diet.

  • Increases in the cost of diets mean reductions in the number of households that can afford those diets.

  • The increased cost of a nutritious diet is correlated with negative household-level diet outcomes and food security.

Thirdly, to gain a better understanding of the challenges facing urban food vendors during the ongoing crisis period, a survey was conducted in the six focus countries in 2023, yielding 677 responses from food vendors across 11 cities. The results showed that urban food vendors faced turmoil during the crisis, including:

  • Reduced access to customers or markets • Supply chain disruption • Reduced revenue

Finally, resilience snapshots were created that assessed shocks, vulnerabilities, capacities and resilience strategies in all six selected countries. Key highlights provided by these pictures include:

  • Reliance on rice production in Bangladesh has left the country very vulnerable to disruptions in rice supply during the crisis.

  • Import dependence in the Kyrgyz Republic has had a significant impact on the resilience of the food system and has resulted in food inflation and price volatility.

  • Overlapping shocks in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic during the crisis were mutually reinforcing and underscored the need for multifaceted approaches to improve food system resilience in the current crisis era.

  • Pakistan provided a stark example of the Asia-Pacific region’s documented vulnerability to climate change, as unprecedented flooding damaged most domestic food production in 2022.

  • In the Philippines, rapid urbanization has had a negative impact on urban food security, with negative nutritional outcomes for children and women in particular.

  • Sri Lanka’s disastrous ban on inorganic fertilizers in 2021, which halved local food production, highlighted the risks of enacting initiatives without stakeholder collaboration or relevant supportive training and education.

  • Interestingly, while the People’s Democratic Republic of Laos and Sri Lanka faced significant disruptions during the crisis, each saw improvements in infrastructure, as reflected by mobile cellular subscriptions, and a stable or increasing social capital index .

Building on the findings, the report concludes with recommendations to mitigate the impact of the current political crisis and to build resilience against future shocks. These recommendations will assist policy makers and partners in key areas such as:

  • Promoting the resilience of the local supply chain

  • Building climate resilience

  • Increasing the social safety net for vulnerable groups

  • Promoting healthy diets across food systems

  • Supporting urban food vendors to mitigate disruptions to market access, supply chains, and income during a crisis

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