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Food Security in Asia-Pacific: Challenges and Potential Solutions

Interview with Peter Ford, President, Asia Pacific for Corteva Agriscience and Priya Bapat, Senior Consultant, Public Policy for The Economist Intelligence Unit, on the Global Food Security Index 2019 Asia Pacific regional report.

Launched on 15 March 2020, the Global Food Security Index (GFSI) 2019 Asia Pacific regional report aimed to highlight key insights and risk factors for food security across the Asia Pacific region. Developed by The Economist Intelligence Unit and supported by Corteva Agriscience, the report lays down a foundation for evaluation of the food systems across 23 countries in the region.

The analysis was divided into four core pillars; affordability, availability, quality and safety, and natural resources and resilience. Based on the report for the second consecutive year, Singapore has been ranked first in overall food security within the Asia Pacific region. Besides understanding the current situation of food security, the GFSI report was developed to be a vital driver to guide strategies and decision-making for formulating solutions in achieving food security.

Some key risks found in the report that threaten the food security of the Asia Pacific region include climate-related natural disasters as well as diversification of foods in Asia.

To gain a better insight to the key messages of the GFSI 2019 Asia Pacific regional report, Peter Ford, President, Asia Pacific for Corteva Agriscience and Priya Bapat, Senior Consultant, Public Policy for The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) have granted us the privilege to an interview to learn more.


1. What is the key message behind reporting of the Global Food Security Index specifically for the Asia Pacific region?

Peter Ford, Corteva:

Food is an essential part of our culture, health, and well-being, unfortunately across the world, many people are unable to meet their basic dietary needs. Globally, the FAO estimates that there are 820 million people experiencing hunger and undernourishment. Here in the Asia Pacific region, food systems are also facing soaring populations expected to hit 5.1 billion by 2050.

The aim of the Global Food Security Index (GFSI) is to shed light on this question. Developed by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), supported by Corteva Agriscience, the GFSI provides a common framework for understanding the root causes of food insecurity. It highlights key areas where greater action is needed to improve the affordability, availability, quality of food while protecting against threats from climate change. By identifying the challenges faced by our food systems, it acts as an invaluable tool to guide strategic and practical decisions that can strengthen food security.

The added challenges with the escalation of the recent COVID-19 pandemic and government precautionary measures have caused mass disruption the food value chain, placing food security under additional threat. The current pandemic has further highlighted resilience issues in food value chain in countries low on GFSI. Mass labour shortages, movement restrictions and rising food prices have hindered the availability and affordability of food, particularly for vulnerable populations, such as lower income families and daily-wage earners, in particular across developing Asia. With the COVID-19 pandemic in mind, now more than ever, all players in the food chain must identify ways to strengthen our food systems and safeguard food security for the world.


2. In relation to Asia Pacific countries which are highly susceptible to natural disasters, what are some sustainable farming practices that they can adopt to ensure food security?

Peter Ford, Corteva:

The GFSI findings highlight the need for countries to invest in climate-smart agriculture technologies to increase food security, such as the use of hybrid seeds and greener crop protection technologies. These technologies can help break the food-climate trade off by enabling farmers to grow hardier crops that are less susceptible to drought and water shortages, thus making farming more resilient to extreme weather conditions.

Digital tools can also help to deliver insights across a grower’s entire operation, enabling them to monitor production, adapt to changes in climate and streamline inefficiencies to increase yields.

Farmers can also shift towards practices which are less water and labour-intensive to increase efficiency, whilst reducing inputs.

One example of this is in India, where drought is a common challenge for farmers. As part of Corteva’s Enriching Lives Together Sustainability Goals to increase sustainable farming practices of 500 million smallholder farmers worldwide, Corteva has helped to implement direct seeding rice systems, which use up to 30 percent less water and help to drastically reduce costs.

In Indonesia, we are collaborating with PRISMA to enrich the lives of 75,000 smallholder farmers across Madura, East Java, through the adoption of more sustainable farming practices and improved inputs. The partnership has increased corn yield in this region by 50 percent and farmer income by 290 percent.

In Bangladesh, we recently launched a new partnership with USAID to enrich the lives of 70,000 smallholder farmers by increasing their adoption of improved corn and rice technologies and sustainable farming practices, which is expected to increase farmers yield by threefold.

Education also plays a crucial role in ensuring farmers are equipped with the knowledge to preserve their land, whilst optimizing output. Over the next ten years, Corteva’s Enriching Lives Together Sustainability Goals aims to provide training to 25 million farmers on soil health, nutrient and water stewardship to increase yield stability and improve climate resilience.


3. How should governments intervene to ensure mitigation of these natural disasters through climate change-related initiatives?

Peter Ford, Corteva:

Governments can support the agriculture industry against climate-change related challenges by installing early-warning and forecasting systems and increasing advances into agricultural R&D.

The GFSI has highlighted several countries that are at risk of climate change-related natural disasters: India, Bangladesh, China, South Korea, and Nepal are particularly susceptible to flooding, posing a significant threat to crop production, whilst low lying countries such as Singapore and Vietnam are among the four countries in the world most exposed to rising sea levels.

These countries can benefit from greater investment into early-warning and forecasting systems, which allow defensive measures to be implemented.

The Philippines is a prime example for improving the disaster-preparedness of its agricultural sector. It launched its Diwata-1 satellite in 2016 to improve forecasting and weather monitoring and enhance its ability to predict extreme weather such as El Nino, and in 2018, a second satellite was launched to include monitoring changes in vegetation and assess damage from disasters.

Increasing public investments in agricultural R&D to advance sustainable practices can help to reduce the sector’s environmental footprint. Similarly, increasing access to financial assistance for farmers enables them to access to greener products and technologies.

Additionally, private organizations can also partner with Corteva to contribute to climate positive innovation to protect food security. In 2019, Corteva announced a USD$500,000 commitment to create the Corteva Agriscience Climate Positive Challenge that provides financial rewards to farmers who are advancing innovative climate positive measures – measures that aim to product sufficient, healthy food while removing greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere.


4. What are some “food safety nets” that countries can adopt to increase food affordability?

Priya Bapat, EIU:

When we speak of food safety nets, we are describing social safety net programs directly designed to ensure food security within the country, both for those facing chronic food security and those who may be experiencing it for the first and only time in their life. Food safety nets can come in the form of:

  1. Food stamps, food pantries or community kitchens that allow underprivileged families to purchase food or meals at lower prices. These programs support both overall caloric needs, as well as improve accessibility of highly nutritious but more expensive foods.
  2. Subsidized food programs directed to vulnerable households.Indonesia set-up its Raskin project in response to the financial crisis of the 1990s with the goal to deliver subsidized rice each month to its most vulnerable households.
  3. School feeding programs which ensure all children have consistent access to nutritious meals during a critical time for their growth and development. 

For example, India is one of the countries with high scores for food safety nets. The country runs some of the world’s largest food safety net programs, including:

  • The Public Distribution System (PDS) that is devoted to the distribution of subsidized food grain, which involves a network of retail shops selling subsidized grains that are otherwise not available elsewhere.
  • Set up in 1995, India’s mid-day meal scheme is the largest school feeding programme in the world, providing daily meals to over 100 million school children.
  • Additionally, India also has safety net programs which aren’t directly targeted at improving food access, but do improve consistency in income, thereby improving food security. India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), which is one of the world’s largest public works programs aimed at reducing poverty by guaranteeing up to 100 days of employment to rural households, has been successful in helping households afford higher caloric and more nutritional items such as protein.


5. How could governments and key stakeholders help to narrow the nutrient gap in the Asia Pacific region and promote food diversification?

Priya Bapat, EIU:

Based on the findings of the GFSI, Asia Pacific ranks fifth out of six regions for its dietary diversity, due to a high dependency on starchy foods in the diet, such as rice. Dietary diversity is critical for ensuring the consumption of necessary macro and micronutrients in the diet. An overreliance on starchy foods can increase the risk of malnutrition-related diseases such as anaemia as well as obesity.

The GFSI 2019 report includes several recommendations for promoting food diversification in the region:

  1. Improving the physical and financial accessibility of fruits, vegetables and protein sources through supporting the expansion of local production and subsidizing costs for lower-income households.
  2. Implementing educational programs – public education can help to raise awareness surrounding nutrition and the importance of a diverse diet
  3. Expanding access to electricity across the country, to better enable households to safely store perishable food items. Countries such as Cambodia, Myanmar and Bangladesh have made improvements in electricity access over the past year, which will support the ability of families to keep perishable foods longer.


6. To achieve food security in the Asia Pacific region, how should countries balance between investing in innovative technologies for food production and climate change mitigation measures?

Priya Bapat, EIU:

Innovative technologies and climate change mitigation go hand in hand. New technologies are needed to help agriculture adapt and expand for the future climate realities and can also help to limit the extent of these impacts on countries.

First and foremost, countries should understand their risk profiles and conduct national-level assessments to understand what their current and future food needs are in a changing world – both from climate change as well as other changes, such as urbanization, changing dietary demands and increasing stress on limited natural resources (land, water). Countries need to understand what the impact will be to agriculture (and what agriculture’s impact will be on these changes) in order to develop mitigation policies such as the adoption and expansion of existing and emerging technologies.

Some solutions may include the adoption and expansion of existing technologies and strategies like drought resistant crop varieties and agricultural early warning systems, while others represent a change in the way we grow and eat food. Increased demand for alternative proteins (such as plant-based meat substitutes, insects and algae) and the expansion of urban, vertical and hydroponic agriculture are examples of the changing future of food. [APBN]


  1. The Economist Intelligence Unit, (2020, March 15). Global Food Security Index 2019: Asia Pacific Regional Report. Retrieved from: https://foodsecurityindex.eiu.com/Resources

About the Interviewees

Peter Ford, MBB, MBA (Hons.)

President, Asia Pacific

Corteva Agriscience™

Peter Ford is the President, Asia Pacific for Corteva Agriscience™,. Located in Singapore, he is responsible for all commercial activities and overall leadership for the region.

Most recently, he served as Regional Business Director, Asia Pacific for DuPont Crop Protection, with overall responsibility for the business across the region.

After starting his career in agricultural retail, Peter has been with DuPont for over 30 years. From 1988 – 2011, he had the opportunity to lead various aspects of the DuPont Crop Protection business in Australia and Asia Pacific (Sales, Supply Chain) and North America (Marketing, Sales and General Management).

He also led the Six Sigma organizations in both Asia Pacific and Europe and drove large scale projects such as the Asia Pacific and Global SAP R3 implementations.

He was appointed Director of Marketing & Strategic planning for Crop Protection in 2011 when he relocated to Singapore to lead the strategic planning and direction of the business, in addition to the marketing function, for the Crop Protection business across Asia Pacific.

He was named Regional Business Director, DuPont (Chemours) Titanium Technologies Asia Pacific in 2013, where he successfully led all aspects of the Asia Pacific business and prepared the unit for “spin” as an independent company.

Priya Bapat Senior Consultant, Public Policy, The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU)

Priya Bapat is a Senior Consultant with The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Public Policy practice. She leads The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Food Security Index, an annual study measuring the state of food security in 100+ countries worldwide. At EIU, Priya leads research programs for foundations, governments and non-profits seeking evidence-based analysis and policy recommendations, focusing on issues related to the intersection of security, food, health and the environment.

Priya has worked with a number of organizations such as the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Health Organization, CGIAR and ministries of agriculture and health to support research and policy analysis on major food security issues including malnutrition, biofortification, agricultural finance and value chain development. She holds a master’s degree in Economic and Political Development from Columbia University and bachelor’s degree in International Politics from Georgetown University.