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Food security, agriculture and gender issues in Asia

Published : Tuesday, 30 October, 2018 at 12:00 AM Count : 1227

Parvez Babul

Parvez Babul

Bangladesh, as a South Asian country faces some problems, trans-boundary issues that greatly affect our lives and livelihoods beyond the borders of Hindu Kush Himalayan region. Food insecurity, malnutrition, agriculture, climate change, internal migration, gender inequality among others, more or less similar, which we face regionally. South and South East Asian countries are among those most prone to natural resource degradation due to intensive human activities and environmental changes.

For example, half of the 90 percent of the population exposed to climate vulnerability are in South Asia. If global warming exceeds the target, the consequent sea-level rise would cause salinity intrusion and permanent inundation of territories, coastline and infrastructure. Global warming above 1.5 threatens Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Moreover, producing additional food on limited land and providing economic access to food at the household level to ensure food security will likely continue to be major challenges. To get the solutions of those problems, regional cooperation is a must.

Information, data and knowledge sharing is very important among the countries of South and South East Asia. Drought and climate change caused increased internal migration too. Women are migrating in the cities/ urban areas, and living vulnerable lives. Number of climate-migrants is increasing very rapidly, and the poor becoming poorest. To reduce poverty, hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition, violence against women, we need to address drought, food security, health, climate change, agriculture, gender, and other relevant issues through regionally sustainable and comprehensive initiatives keeping ahead to feed the future, and achieving  Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

South Asian countries occupy less than 15 percent of the globe's arable land, and supply food to 25 percent of the world's population. Improved crop varieties and inputs have dramatically increased yield. However, uncertainties still exist since yields vary strongly due to fluctuations in climate. Understanding such fluctuations is crucial for developing resilient food systems. Climate variability further complicates the situations by making it harder to forecast drought.

Agriculture in this region accounts for two-thirds of the global agricultural gross domestic product (GDP). In a changing climate, this agricultural productivity will likely be affected negatively as changes in rainfall patterns and intensity affect agricultural production, especially in marginal rain-fed areas.
In South Asia, limited per capita arable land and fast growing population poses serious challenges in achieving food security goals. Along with efforts to enhance productivity and sustainability, timely and accurate information on agricultural productivity, such as crop planting acreage, crop condition and yield assessment are the keys to making sound decision to ensure food security, and nutrition.
 
Agriculture, food security, and environmental degradation issues continue to be major challenges in South and Southeast Asia. Climate change is affecting the whole watershed, from mountain to sea. Vulnerable communities, extreme poor, women and children need help in adapting to and mitigating negative impact from these changes. All the stakeholders should continually strive to strengthen their programmes to promote resilient communities and reinforce ecosystem service in the region.

Uncertainty in weather patterns and climate variability result in increased food security risks for millions of people. Land use changes can negatively affect the environment and threaten the natural ecosystems especially in the hilly regions. Policy makers should work on the impacts in three categories: economic, environment, social and gendered.

Nepal-based regional think tank International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), a model for mountain development, in collaboration with Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre (ADPC) organized an international event on regional knowledge forum on drought recently in Kathmandu. Earth observation, climate services, food security, and agricultural decision making in South and South East Asia were very broadly discussed at the event with the active participation of internationally acclaimed scientists, researchers, and experts on relevant fields. Birendra Bajracharya, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) specialist of ICIMOD mentioned that we need to strengthen regional partnerships. Long term policy interventions, together with capacity building of farmers on efficient water use technologies and climate resilient farming are very important.  "Operationalizing vulnerability assessment is critically needed to identify the most vulnerable communities by utilizing remote sensing-based analysis in combination with socio-economic, demographic and infrastructural data", Birendra added.

Social and gender perspectives:
Regarding gender, as a cross-cutting issue, research shows that for example, failure of winter crop has forced subsistence farmers, in particular male members of the family, to look for alternative income, for which they migrate to nearby cities/ towns, or to other states or countries.  In absence of men, women and children manage the household and carry out both farm responsibilities and 'outside' work previously considered the male domain. Among subsistence farming communities, women are also forced to do labour work to cope with possible risks associated with farming, especially in rain-fed farming scenarios.

It has increased women's workload. In addition, due to lack of adequate measures to protect women, their involvement in the new spaces of labour market has made them vulnerable to various forms of abuse and exploitation. It is leading to increased incidents of gender -based violence. Gender-sensitive support system to cope with the problems could help in reducing gendered vulnerabilities.
Conflict over resources and marginalization, change in food habits and negative effects particularly affect health of women and children. Migration and forced displacements, Feminization of demographic roles and responsibilities attributed to decreased agricultural production and when men are forced to move out for employment opportunities. Increased incidences of violence against women due to alteration in gender roles occur because of those reasons among others.    

Prof Dr Md Anowar Hossain Bhuiyan of National University, Bangladesh said, "Agriculture land is decreasing. We need to measure the impacts of success and failure to make sure availability and accessibility of authentic data through selecting the perfect way of service delivery. Transboundary issues should be addressed properly. Building institutional capacity to use data and information is important. Also project ownership by the communities requires encourage."

Experts observed that natural or human-induced disasters response suffers from three main weaknesses that have led to unnecessary damage to lives and livelihoods and greatly increased the cost of responding to disasters. Those weaknesses: Decision-making processes are too slow. Preparedness planning is inadequate and often done too late. The current response models are outdated and not only costly, but also underfunded.

The South Asia and South East Asia region have been experiencing frequent and prolonged droughts.  The per capita land availability and per capita water availability is decreasing continuously. Moreover, the top down policies don't fit always, rather 'down to top' policies involving the end users/ communities including women with their indigenous knowledge best fit. Both the governments and non-government organizations (NGOs) of the Himalayan Hindu Kush region should also work in social protection, so that most vulnerable get assistance in need. All the parties must keep the local, national, and regional agenda in the table of discussion for perfectly planning, making the policies to work together, and survive together.

The writer is an independent journalist and editor of bdreport24.com



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