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Future Smart Food

Rediscovering Hidden Treasures of Neglected and Underutilized Species for Zero Hunger in Asia

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For centuries people in Asia and the Pacific region have grown and consumed a wide variety of nutritious foods. Unfortunately, more recent generations have slowly but surely changed their diets and have moved away from many of these traditional foods. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is working with our Member Countries to reinvigorate both production and consumption of these crops – often referred to as neglected and underutilized species (NUS). This work is consistent with FAO’s role in providing support to countries to meet the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), primarily, but not limited to, SDG2 which aims to achieve Zero Hunger, specifically to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture” by 2030. The Zero Hunger goal implies that no one should be left behind. The Asia-Pacific region is home to most of the world’s undernourished people (490 million). Other forms of malnutrition remain challenging, including stunting and micronutrient deficiencies. While in some countries there are rising rates of overweight and obesity. The issues are manifest in both the demand side and supply side. On the demand side, there is population growth, urbanization, migration, and the changing consumption associated with rising incomes. On the supply side, the combined effects of climate change, declining agricultural biodiversity, water scarcity, land scarcity, and degradation of natural resources are threatening world food security.

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Challenges, opportunities and strategies for neglected and underutilized species as future smart food for zero hunger

The growing world population poses many challenges for agriculture. An estimated global population of more than 9 billion by 2050 will cause serious food, energy and water shortages. Demand for food and energy will increase between 70 and 100 percent, if we maintain our current production levels. There will be a 30 percent increase in demand for fresh water while the per capita availability of water is projected to decrease by 25 percent (Hoff, 2011, Al-Riffai et al., 2017). Considering the United Nations revised figures for population growth and the increase in agricultural production by 15 percent between 2005/06 and 2012, the projected increase in demand for agricultural production is estimated to rise by approximately 50 percent from 2013 to 2050 (FAO, 2017). Population growth, the current degradation of natural resources and the serious implications of climate change will have major consequences on agricultural production. Despite efforts to increase food production to reduce both hunger and poverty, there are still more than 800 000 people facing hunger globally (Al-Riffai et al., 2017; FAO, 2017). Many Asian countries, including India, are categorized as ‘serious’ in the Global Hunger Index (GHI) with 20-34 percent of their populations undernourished.

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