Food Security in South Asia: Status, Challenges and Policy Considerations

Date01 September 2014
AuthorMahabub Hossain
Published date01 September 2014
World Food Policy - Volume 1, Number 2 - Fall 2014
South Asia has made substantial progress in increasing production of rice
and wheat, the staple food in the region. India and Pakistan has become
major rice exporting countries and have eliminated the import of wheat. Sri
Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal has also reduced import dependence on rice.
But, poverty levels are still high, and many people cannot access food from
the market. Child mal-nutrition in the region is still among the highest
in the world. e region must continue to focus on development and diu-
sion of improved technologies, particularly for the rainfed regions, and im-
proved nutrition through diversication of food and improved childcare.
Keywords: (JEL Classication): Agriculture (O13), Food security (Q18), South
Asia (O18), Poverty (I32), Nutrition (I12)
Food security exists when all people, at
all times, have physical and economic
access to sucient, safe and nutritious
food that meets the dietary needs and food
preferences for an active and healthy life”
(FAO 2006). Achieving food and nutrition
security requires coordinated action in a
number of fronts: a) increasing food avail-
ability through faster agricultural growth,
more ecient markets and less restrictive
trade both within the country and interna-
tionally; b) improving poor people’s access
to food by increasing their employment and
remuneration, combating social and gen-
der exclusion, reducing price volatility, de-
veloping resilience against external shocks,
and extending safety nets and social protec-
tion to the weakest sections of the society;
and c)improving nutritional status through
improved healthcare, provision of safe wa-
ter, improved sanitation and hygiene, and
awareness raising for proper child feeding
South Asia has over 420 million peo-
ple living on less than one dollar a day and
accounts for over 40% of the world’s hungry
people (Mittal and Sethi 2009). It has the
highest proportion of undernourished peo-
ple (300 million), and of under-nutrition
among under ve children—even higher
than most countries in sub-Saharan Afri-
ca. Under-nutrition is a key mechanism by
which poverty is transmitted from genera-
tion to generation. It constrains the cogni-
tive and physical development of children,
results in signicant loss of human poten-
tial that in turn adversely aects the re-
gions long-term economic growth. Despite
strong economic growth in many countries
in South Asia over the last two decades,
under-nutrition have only reduced slightly
and is a major cause of concern for the pol-
icy makers.
is paper presents an overview of
the progress made in food availability, ac-
cess and nutrition, and the challenges and
issues for achieving and sustaining food se-
Food Security in South Asia: Status, Challenges and Policy
Mahabub Hossain1
1 Executive Director, BRAC, Bangladesh; former Head, Social Sciences Division, International Rice Research
Food Security in South Asia: Status, Challenges and Policy Considerations
curity in South Asia. It outlines the current
situation, key issues, and important poli-
cy choices in the region to meet the chal-
lenge. It has three sections, an overview of
the food and nutrition security situation,
the main challenges facing the region with
regard to achieving food security, and sug-
gested actions that policy makers may wish
to consider for improving the situation par-
ticularly with regard to regional coopera-
Food Security and Nutrition Situa-
Food availability
Food can be made available to the mar-
ket through adequate domestic pro-
duction and or through imports. Until
recently most countries in the region had
limited access to foreign exchange. Because
of this South Asia followed basically a policy
of self-suciency in domestic production to
meet the food needs of the people.
Despite high pressure of population
on limited land and water resources and
an agrarian structure dominated by small
and marginal farmers (except North-west-
ern India and Pakistan Punjab), South Asia
has made remarkable progress in food pro-
duction over the last 40 years, transform-
ing the region from a food decient to a
food-self-sucient region. Indeed, India
and Pakistan have become major exporters
of rice in the world market. Between 1970–
72 and 2011–12, wheat production tripled
and rice production more than doubled,
exceeding the population growth which in-
creased 2.1 times from 720 million in 1970
to nearly 1.6 billion in 2011 (Jansen and
Ahmed 2010). e record of growth in rice
and wheat production in the countries of
the region can be noted in Table 1.
Country/crop Production (%/year) Productivity (crop yield) (%/year)
Not estimated
Not estimated
Nepal 2.6 0.7 1.7 1.1
Pakistan 1.9 3.6 0.8 2.1
Sri Lanka 0.7 4.1 0.9 2.4
South Asia 2.7 1.8 2.2 1.7
Afghanistan Not estimated 3.7 Not estimated 1.8
India 3.7 1.1 2.8 1.0
Pakistan 2.8 2.1 1.9 1.1
South Asia 3.4 1.6 2.6 1.1
Table 1: Growth (%/year) of production and productivity of rice and wheat, 1980-2012
Source: Estimating logarithmic trend lines on time series data in the USDA database

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