A major new challenge in future food production to meet the demand of the growing Asian population is in coping with the changing environment, which may alter the current optimum growing requirement of agricultural crops. The potential impacts of climate change on agriculture in Asia are crucial because of agriculture's ultimate role in providing food and fiber to Asia's human population. Countries in south and southeast Asia have shown strong reductions in undernourished population in the 1990s. Even so, it has been estimated that almost two-thirds (more than 500 million) of undernourished people live in developing countries of Asia and the Pacific. South Asia accounts for more than one-third of the world total (258 million). Another 64 million undernourished people live in southeast Asia; more than 160 million live in China (FAO, 1999b). The undernourished population almost doubled between 1995 and 1999from 6 to 12%as a result of the economic crisis in Indonesia. With the highest incidences of undernutrition and a very large population of children under the age of five, south Asia accounts for almost half of the world's underweight and stunted children (see Box 11-2). Table 11-6 lists the prevalence of undernourishment in Asian developing countries.
Box 11-2. Bangladesh: Food Insecurity in an Agrarian Nation
Malnutrition remains endemic in Bangladesh, an overwhelmingly agrarian country where most rural households do not own land and have few other opportunities to earn wage income. At barely 2,000 kilocalories per person per day, food availability falls short of meeting basic requirements. With extensive poverty, malnutrition, inadequate sanitation, and inadequate access to health care, the country is vulnerable to outbreaks of infectious, water-borne, or other types of diseases. Less than half the population of Bangladesh currently has access to adequate sanitation. Some areas of the country still face the risk of famine; others have frequent floods and often are devastated by cyclones and storm surges.
Overall, the rate of undernourishment is very high (37%), as is the prevalence of underweight, stunting, and wasting among children (Figure 11-9). Rates are high throughout the rural areas that are home to 80% of Bangladesh's population. More than 60% of rural households are functionally landless, and there are limited opportunities for income diversification (Mimura and Harasawa, 2000). The level of vulnerability is likely to increase as a result of severe land degradation, soil erosion, lack of appropriate technology, and the threat of sea-level rise from global warming. Climate change could result in a decreased supply of water and soil moisture during the dry season, increasing the demand for irrigation while supply drops. Improving irrigation efficiency and agricultural productivity will help make Bangladesh self-sufficient in crop production and reduce malnourishment. Higher yields may enable the country to store food supplies to carry it through low-harvest years (Azam, 1996). A switch to growing higher value crops and expansion of free market reforms in agriculture may enable Bangladesh to sell more crops for export. Diversification should help in providing robustness to withstand climate change and variability.
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