Statistical Yearbook for Asia and the Pacific 2012
 
   
D. Poverty and insecurity
 
D.3. Food security

The World Food Summit was held in Rome in 1996. Its Plan of Action states: “Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”1 This definition identifies four main dimensions of food security: (a) food availability (food must be available in sufficient quantity and quality, either through domestic production, trade or food aid); (b) food access (individuals must have the required resources to be able to acquire food for their consumption); (c) food utilization (human biological capacity to absorb the necessary nutrients from food into their body, which depends on, among other things, health and access to clean water and sanitation); and (d) stability (low susceptibility to the risk of not having access to food over time).

Asia and the Pacific has made remarkable progress in addressing food security during the last two decades. A considerable proportion of its population, however, still faces severe forms of hunger and malnutrition.

Undernourishment is a serious issue in the region as it is home to about two thirds of the world’s undernourished population. For adults, undernourishment undermines health and reduces their capacity to live and work to their full potential. For children, it can result in lifelong poor physical and mental growth and susceptibility to diseases.

Figure D.3-1
Prevalence of undernourishment, Asia and the Pacific, 1990-1992 to 2010-2012

Figure D.3-1 Prevalence of undernourishment, Asia and the Pacific, 1990-1992 to 2010-2012The region as a whole has registered a reduction in the proportion of the undernourished population from 22 per cent in 1990-1992 to 13 per cent in 2010-2012. If this trend continues, the region is likely to achieve target 1.C of the Millennium Development Goals, which is to halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger. Yet, there are a number of hunger hotspots, where food insecurity remains a major challenge. South and South-West Asia, for example, has the highest proportion of undernourished people in the region. This subregion experienced a steady decline in undernourishment in the 1990s, followed by stagnation for some years, but the reduction has continued again at a slower speed in recent years. India, with its large population, has the greatest number of undernourished people in the region. In contrast, Central Asia, which had a low proportion of undernourishment at the beginning of the 1990s, experienced a dramatic rise during the latter part of the decade, but managed to reduce the proportion to 7.4 per cent by 2010-2012. East and North-East Asia has also seen a steady decline in its undernourished population.

Figure D.3-2
Prevalence of undernourishment, Asia and the Pacific, 1990-1992 and 2010-2012

Figure D.3-2 Prevalence of undernourishment, Asia and the Pacific, 1990-1992 and 2010-2012By 1990-1992, a number of countries in the region had already reached the level of 5 per cent undernourishment, indicating that the country was food secure. Since then, several other countries have been able to reduce the proportion of their undernourished population to, or close to, the 5 per cent benchmark (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, Samoa and Turkmenistan). Out of the 19 countries that recorded over 20 per cent of their population as being undernourished in 1990-1992, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Viet Nam were able to reduce the figure to below 10 per cent by 2010-2012. Viet Nam and Georgia lowered their undernourished populations by 37.9 and 35.4 percentage points, respectively, during this period, whereas Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic managed to reduce their undernourished populations by 16 to 18 percentage points. In the case of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the proportion of the undernourished population has risen by 7.0 percentage points in the past two decades. The proportion of undernourishment remains high in low-income economies, lowermiddle- income economies and least developed countries. As a group, the SAARC countries have the highest proportion of undernourished people.

Box D.3-1
Global Hunger Index

The Global Hunger Index (GHI) is a tool designed to comprehensively measure and track hunger globally, by region and by country. To reflect the multidimensional nature of hunger, GHI combines three equally weighted indicators in one index: (a) undernourishment (the proportion of undernourished people as a percentage of the total population); (b) child underweight (the proportion of children younger than 5 years of age who are underweight); and (c) child mortality (the mortality rate of children younger than 5 years of age). The 2012 GHI reflects data from 2005 to 2010 – the most recent country-level data on the three GHI components. GHI ranks countries on a 100-point scale in which 0 is the best score (no hunger) and 100 the worst, although neither of these extremes is reached in practice.

According to the 2012 GHI, South and South-West Asia has the highest GHI score among the Asian and Pacific subregions (and hunger is alarming in Bangladesh, India and Nepal), despite reducing its score from 28.3 in 1990 to 21.1 in 2012. Between 1990 and 1996, the subregion reduced its GHI score by more than 5.7 points – mainly through a large 13.2 percentage point decline in underweight in children – but it could not maintain this rapid progress. Stagnation followed, and the region has lowered its GHI score by less than 2 points since 2001, despite strong economic growth. Social inequality and the low nutritional, educational and social status of women are major causes of child undernourishment in this subregion and have impeded improvements in the GHI score.

Global Hunger Index, Asia and the Pacific, 1990, 1996, 2001 and 2012

Global Hunger Index, Asia and the Pacific, 1990, 1996, 2001 and 2012Some Asian countries also achieved noteworthy progress in improving their GHI scores: Bangladesh and Viet Nam lowered their scores by 13.9 and 14.4 percentage points, respectively. In South-East Asia, progress has been particularly remarkable, with the GHI score decreasing from 20.5 in 1990 to 12.0 in 2012.

Asia and the Pacific has continuously reduced the depth of its food deficit during the past two decades. However, as of 2010-2012, there were great disparities in food deficit levels across the subregions.

Figure D.3-3
Depth of food deficit, Asia and the Pacific, 1990-1992 to 2010-2012

Figure D.3-3 Depth of food deficit, Asia and the Pacific, 1990-1992 to 2010-2012As shown in figure D.3-3, South and South-West Asia has the highest depth of food deficit in the region, whereas South-East Asia, which recorded the highest depth of food deficit in 1990-1992, has shown the most progress. It is interesting to note that East and North-East Asia, South and South-West Asia, and South-East Asia had very high food deficit levels per capita in the 1990s, but over the years, these subregions have diverged significantly. The depth of food deficit is the highest in the SAARC grouping and moderate in the ASEAN grouping. The Pacific is the subregion with the lowest depth of food deficit.

The reasons behind the apparent subregional and country variations in the depth of the food deficit are of considerable interest to policymakers. Considered together, average dietary energy supply adequacy and undernourishment can shed light on whether food insecurity is caused by supply deficits or by other factors such as income or food distribution.

The region as a whole has reached a relatively high average dietary energy supply adequacy. However, for a particular country, high average dietary energy supply adequacy alone may not be sufficient to ensure adequate food for all people.

Figure D.3-4
Average dietary energy supply adequacy, Asia and the Pacific, 2010-2012

Figure D.3-4 Average dietary energy supply adequacy, Asia and the Pacific, 2010-2012In 2010-2012, the level of average dietary energy supply adequacy reached 117 per cent in Asia and the Pacific. In the SAARC countries, however, it remained low at 106 per cent. It should be noted that, while in Bangladesh and in India the prevalence of undernourishment is at 17.0 per cent and 18.0 per cent, respectively, with average dietary energy supply adequacy at 107 per cent and 105 per cent, respectively, the prevalence of undernourishment in Georgia is at 25.0 per cent with average dietary energy supply adequacy at 117 per cent. Also noteworthy is Japan, where the prevalence of undernourishment is very low at 6 per cent and the average dietary energy supply adequacy is also low at 111 per cent. This suggests that dietary energy supply adequacy alone is not sufficient for ensuring food security.

There has been good overall progress in increasing cereal production in the region, but disparities among subregions and countries persist.

Countries with low average dietary energy supply adequacy may need to introduce policies for enhancing the means of making more food available to their citizens, including production enhancement, increased trade and effective stock management. In countries where there are high levels of both average dietary energy supply adequacy and undernourishment, more focus on enhancing food and income distribution may be required.

Figure D.3-5
Per capita cereal production, Asia and the Pacific, 1961-2012

Figure D.3-5 Per capita cereal production, Asia and the Pacific, 1961-2012

Note: Data for countries in North and Central Asia are available only from 1992 onwards.

Many countries in the region have introduced policies to increase cereal production. On average, per capita cereal production increased from 290 kg in 1990 to 337 kg in 2011. In South-East Asia, per capita cereal production grew steadily from 229 kg in 1961 to 413 kg in 2011. South and South-West Asia also had growth during this period (209 kg in 1961 to 251 kg in 2011), but is the most underperforming subregion in Asia and the Pacific.

Country-level per capita cereal production varies from almost zero in some Pacific countries to over 600 kg in such countries as Cambodia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar, the Russian Federation, and Turkmenistan.

The share of dietary energy derived from cereals, roots and tubers in Asia and the Pacific is significantly higher than it is in other world regions except Africa. However, food habits in many countries in the region are slowly changing, resulting in reduced dependency on cereals, roots and tubers.

Figure D.3-6
Share of dietary energy derived from cereals, roots and tubers, world regions, 1993-1995 and 2007-2009

Figure D.3-6 Share of dietary energy derived from cereals, roots and tubers, world regions, 1993-1995 and 2007-2009As shown in figure D.3-6, the share of dietary energy derived from cereals, roots and tubers in the region declined by 7 percentage points between 1993-1995 and 2007-2009. Yet, as of 2007-2009, 56 per cent of dietary energy still came from cereals, roots and tubers, compared with 51 per cent worldwide, 32 per cent in Europe and 25 per cent in North America. The region’s least developed countries rely on cereals, roots and tubers for almost 75 per cent of dietary energy. Countries with a reduction of over 15 per cent in the share of dietary energy coming from cereals, roots and tubers include Armenia (27 per cent), Kazakhstan (24 per cent), China (18 per cent), Viet Nam (18 per cent) and the Republic of Korea (17 per cent). The decline is from a dependency ratio of over 60 per cent in 1993- 1995 (with the exception of the Republic of Korea, with a slightly lower level of 53 per cent). Food habits appear to have changed slowly in a large number of countries, with the overwhelming majority of countries in the region experiencing a reduction of less than 5 per cent in the share of dietary energy derived from cereals, roots and tubers.

Figure D.3-7
Share of dietary energy derived from cereals, roots and tubers, Asia and the Pacific, 1993- 1995 and 2007-2009

Figure D.3-7 Share of dietary energy derived from cereals, roots and tubers, Asia and the Pacific, 1993- 1995 and 2007-2009

High per capita cereal production may not necessarily imply food security; household entitlements play a vital role, especially for the poor.

Countries with very high per capita cereal production are not necessarily the most food secure. Examples are Cambodia (per capita cereal production at 650 kg in 2011, prevalence of undernourishment at 17 per cent in 2010-2012) and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (per capita cereal production at 638 kg in 2011, prevalence of undernourishment at 28 per cent in 2010-2012). In contrast, some food-secure countries have very low per capita cereal production. This suggests that high per capita cereal production is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for food security, which depends on many ancillary factors including household entitlements, food distribution within households and countries, the extent of social protection, the sustainability of food production, prices and distribution systems.

Figure D.3-8
Share of food expenditure of the poor and prevalence of undernourishment

Figure D.3-8 Share of food expenditure of the poor and prevalence of undernourishmentEntitlements are a main factor in food security. By Engel’s law, the share of food expenditure of total consumption (total food and non-food) of the population’s lowest income quintile declines as incomes rise. Thus, a high share of food expenditure implies a high degree of food poverty. The poor are also more susceptible to food insecurity when they are confronted with food price variability because they do not have the capacity to incur additional expenditure on food without cutting down on other consumption. This may explain the apparent high correlation between the share of food expenditure and the proportion of the undernourished population in the region.

Box D.3-2
A new partnership effort to strengthen regional and national capacities in measuring resilience for food security

With almost 870 million people chronically undernourished in 2010-2012, the number of people suffering from food insecurity globally remains unacceptably high.a In areas plagued by recurring or protracted crises, the problem is especially severe. Furthermore, most efforts to effectively address the underlying causes of vulnerability that regularly threaten the lives of millions in crisis situations have not been successful. Indeed, recurring crises in the Horn of Africa, the Sahel and parts of Asia over the last few decades have demonstrated the ineffectiveness of large-scale emergency interventions to improve regional or local resilience to withstand future shocks and stresses.

There is a need for research on how to best assess or measure households’ reactions to shock and stresses, as well as the extent to which programme interventions enhance their resilience. Panel-type data represent the ideal source (for example, data provided through the living standards measurement study) where they are available. Qualitative data can enhance quantitative findings and should be included in measuring resilience.

In order to develop a common understanding on how best to measure resilience, an expert consultation on measuring resilience related to food security was held in Rome from 19 to 21 February 2013. Supported by the European Commission and the United States Agency for International Development, and organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Food Programme, it brought together 60 stakeholders, donors and practitioners to discuss key issues regarding resilience measurement and to decide on next steps.

Key measurement issues identified include a unit of analysis to be used, the timing and frequency of data collection, and the need to include a qualitative approach. It was also agreed that more statistically sound research was needed.

The recently established Food Security Information Networkb has emerged as a platform for defining and facilitating the implementation of these next steps, including the establishment of:

(a)

A community of practice dedicated to measuring resilience related to food and nutrition security as a forum for sharing best practices among practitioners. This will include participants from the expert consultation as well as members from regional bodies, national institutions, nongovernmental organizations, donors and the partners engaged in the Global Strategy to Improve Agricultural and Rural Statistics.

(b)

A task-oriented technical working group on resilience measurement to help the technical development of resilience measurement.

Expected outcomes include: (a) harmonizing and gaining consensus on methods for measuring food and nutrition security resilience; and (b) implementing best practices in the field and (b).

____________________
a Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2012 (2012). Available from www.fao.org/publications/sofi/en/.
b The Food Security Information Network was launched by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the International Food Policy Research Institute and the World Food Programme in October 2012 as a global community of practice whose aim is to improve food and nutrition security information systems.

Further reading

Carletto, Calogero, Alberto Zezza and Raka Banerjee. “Towards better measurement of household food security: harmonizing indicators and the role of household surveys”. Global Food Security, vol. 2, No. 1 (March 2013), pp. 30-40.

ESCAP. Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security in Asia and the Pacific. United Nations publication, Sales No. E.09.II.F.12.

National Research Council of the National Academies. A Sustainability Challenge: Food Security for All – Report of Two Workshops. Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences, 2013. Available from www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=13378.

Technical notes

Average dietary energy supply adequacy (percentage)
Expresses the dietary energy supply as a percentage of the average dietary energy requirement in the country. The average supply of calories for food consumption of each country or region is normalized by the average dietary energy requirement estimated for its population in order to provide an index of adequacy of the food supply in terms of calories. Analysed together with the prevalence of undernourishment, it allows the determination of whether undernourishment is mainly due to the insufficiency of the food supply or to particularly poor distribution. Aggregate calculations: FAO Statistics Division (ESS).

Share of dietary energy supply derived from cereals, roots and tubers (percentage)
Energy supply (in kcal/person/day) provided by cereals, roots and tubers divided by total dietary energy supply (in kcal/person/day) calculated from the correponding categories in the FAOSTAT Food Balance Sheets. Aggregate calculations: FAO Statistics Division (ESS).

Per capita cereal production (kg)
Calculated as the total cereal production divided by total population. Cereals include wheat, rice paddy, barley, maize, popcorn, rye, oats, millets, sorghum, buckwheat, quinoa, fonio, triticale, canary seed, mixed grain and cereals nes. Aggregate calculations: Weighted average using population (WPP2012) as weight. Missing data are not imputed.

Share of food expenditure of the poor (percentage)
Proportion of food consumption over total consumption (food and non-food) for the lowest income quintile of the population.

Depth of the food deficit (kcal/person/day)
Indicates how many calories would be needed to lift the undernourished from their status, everything else being constant. The average intensity of food deprivation of the undernourished, estimated as the difference between the average dietary energy requirement and the average dietary energy consumption of the undernourished population (food-deprived), is multiplied by the number of undernourished to provide an estimate of the total food deficit in the country, which is then normalized by the total population. Aggregate calculations: FAO Statistics Division (ESS).

Minimum dietary energy requirement (kcal/ person/day)
Establishes a cut-off point, or threshold, to estimate the prevalence (percentage) of the undernourished population in a country expressed in kcal per person per day. When the threshold, or cut-off point, changes, so does the prevalence of people estimated to be undernourished. Dietary energy requirements differ by gender and age, and for different levels of physical activity. Accordingly, minimum dietary energy requirements, the amount of energy needed for light activity and minimum acceptable weight for attained height, vary by country, and from year to year depending on the gender and age structure of the population. For an entire population, the minimum energy requirement is the weighted average of the minimum energy requirements of the different gender-age groups in the population. Particularly in countries with a high prevalence of undernourishment, a large proportion of the population typically consumes dietary energy levels close to the cut-off point, making the minimum dietary energy requirement a highly sensitive parameter. In most countries, the new human energy requirement standards have resulted in an overall drop in the amount of food required, and a decline in the prevalence of undernourishment. Aggregate calculations: FAO Statistics Division (ESS).

Average dietary energy requirement (kcal/ person/day)
The average of the individual’s dietary energy requirement is a proper normative reference for adequate nutrition in the population. While it would be mistaken to take the average dietary energy requirement value as the cut-off point to determine the prevalence of undernourishment, its value could be used to calculate the depth of the food deficit, that is, the amount of dietary energy that would be needed to ensure that, if properly distributed, hunger would be eliminated. Aggregate calculations: FAO Statistics Division (ESS).

Prevalence of undernourishment (percentage)
Proportion of the population etimated to be at risk of caloric inadequacy. This is the traditional FAO hunger indicator, adopted as Millennium Development Goal indicator 1.9 for Goal 1, target 1.C. The indicator is calculated on three year averages. Aggregate calculations: FAO Statistics Division (ESS).

Source
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Source of Average dietary energy supply adequacy and Share of dietary energy supply derived from cereals, roots and tubers: FAOSTAT database and FAO Statistics Division (ESS) calculations.

Source of Total cereal production: FAOSTAT database.
Source of Depth of the food deficit: FAO Statistics Division (ESS) calculations.
Source of Share of food expenditure of the poor: LABORSTA – ILO: http://laborsta.ilo.org/STP/guest. Original Source of data: National Household Surveys.
Source of Minimum dietary energy requirement and Average dietary energy requirement: FAO calculations.
Source of Prevalence of undernourishment: FAO Statistics Division (ESS) calculations.
Data obtained: 14 March 2013.
____________________
1 World Food Summit Plan of Action, paragraph 1. Available from ww.fao.org/wfs/index_en.htm.
 
Statistics Home Statistics Home
Statistics Home Statistical Yearbook for Asia and the Pacific 2013
Did you know?
Download chapterPDF format
Data tables Data tables
Table D.3.1 Food availability
Excel format
Table D.3.2 Food insecurity outcomes
Excel format
Online Database Home Online database
 Country profiles Home Data visualization: time-series (1990-2012)
 Country profiles Home Data visualization: selected demographic indicators (1980-2050)
Online Database Home Media coverage
Readership Questionnaire
Download previous version
ESCAP SYB2011 (9.2MB)
ESCAP SYB2009 (4.3MB)
ESCAP SYB2008 (2.8MB)
ESCAP SYB2007 (2.3MB)
Statistical publications
Contact us