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Publication | 2021

The Role of Science, Technology, and Innovation for Transforming Food Systems in Asia

This Brief focusses primarily on the role of science, technology and innovation (STI), and including research and development (R&D), education and extension, in transforming the food systems of Asia and the Pacific. The Brief recognises that a “whole of systems” approach is required to address the issue. The need for a territorial dimension in such an analysis is emphasized recognising often profound differences between geographical areas and socio-economic groupings.

Work is urgently needed to define ‘healthy’ diets for different regions, societies and cultures. Emphasis should shift from the provision of calories, to the supply balanced patterns of all the essential nutrients, and the ‘holistic’ properties of foods should be recognised. The properties of food and the influence of diet on human health need to be much better understood, and should be the focus of STI. Sociological and behavioural research is also required to better understand the purchasing motivation of people of different ages and socio-cultural backgrounds.

Asia is considered to be at particularly high risk for future food security, especially in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Myanmar, the Philippines, Tajikistan, Iraq and Yemen.

Asia food supply will be required to increase significantly over the next three decades. The required increase in net food supply may involve reducing food wastage and effects on the demand side brought about by changing food consumption patterns, but will also involve producing more food from existing agricultural land. Sustainable intensification will be required supported by a step-change in STI.

It was urged that systems analysis be applied across the agricultural and food sectors of these countries to identify the actual technical and other impediments to food and nutrients supply. It was envisaged that the results from such an analysis would be used to formulate a ‘blueprint’ for agricultural and food STI in Asia.

Investment in R&D is likely to yield immediate and widespread dividends in these fields:

(1) sustainable farming practices including bioecological approaches;

(2) genomic-based approaches  to plant and animal breeding;

(3) ‘big data’ capture and analysis, precision agriculture, robotics, artificial intelligence;

(4) Food technology innovations in harvesting, processing and storage to reduce wastage, and promote more equitable distribution of safe non-perishable food and lead to healthier processed foods;

(5) Aquaculture production and integrated farm production systems.

Overarching recommendations were the establishment of a trans-national funding mechanism for the entire region focussing on targeted inter-disciplinary STI, and the establishment of regional Centres of Excellence for research, education and extension focussing on the identified key areas of opportunity.