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Actions for Food Security

In 2015, C. Peter Timmer, a leading authority on food security, agriculture and rural development, published the book Food Security and Scarcity: Why Ending Hunger Is So Hard.

So why is it so hard? In short, according to Timmer, it is “because governments and markets need to work together around an agenda of pro-poor growth, agricultural development, and stable food economies”. The challenge is even greater because of time, and the uncertainty that comes with having to plan for the future amid ever-changing conditions.

How do we make food systems sustainable to provide for the needs of today as well as the needs of tomorrow? What are the social, infrastructure, and governance needs for food systems to become environmentally sustainable?

Timmer weighs in on these questions as well and suggests that there are three time periods we need to consider: the short run (10 years), the medium run (the coming decades), and the long run (the coming generations).

In the context of rice production, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization has proposed the following main areas to improve regional food security:

  • Investment in R&D (research and development) for inducing and supporting technological innovations in all stages of the rice value chain for productivity and efficiency gains, higher quality and nutritional value, greater resilience and environmental protection.
  • Promotion of technology and knowledge transfer and ICT (information and communications technologies).
  • Policy and institutional innovations to promote rural income growth and the rapid spread of improved technologies, and to develop a robust food security system that is stable and accessible to all.
  • Investment in rural infrastructure.
  • The tricky part about this is that actions for all three time periods need to be taken today. Consider the list above. The development of infrastructure is time-consuming and expensive, and therefore should be future-oriented – the infrastructure we develop in the coming decade needs to be usable for the next generation as well, and adaptable to new conditions.

    Research and development are also time-consuming and expensive. Research into new technologies in all stages of the value chain is necessary, but innovations must be created, experimented with, and then mainstreamed. Technological transitions can sometimes happen quickly for cities (years), but rural areas often much less so (decades), as profit incentives are much lower or non-existent in many areas. Therefore, the spread and mainstream use of new technologies will require government or NGO sponsorship, over time, as people need to learn both to use and to trust the innovation.

    Meanwhile, the capacity to feed 9–10 billion people needs development. Dramatic shifts in diets globally, a rethinking of biofuels, and climate change adaptation will be necessary by 2050, while also ensuring that natural resource stocks are as good or better than current levels.


    Timmer, C. P. (2015). Food Security and Scarcity: Why Ending Hunger Is So Hard. Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press.

    FAO (2014). A regional rice strategy for sustainable food security in Asia and the Pacific. Food and Agriculture Organization, Bangkok.

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    This article is from the free online course:

    Food and Our Future: Sustainable Food Systems in Southeast Asia

    Stockholm Environment Institute