Food Insecurity in Asian LDCs

Gyan Bahadur Adhikari* and Kritika Lamsal
Rural Reconstruction Nepal (RRN)

In this world, 800 million people go hungry every day and 2 billion suffer from some form of malnutrition. In this same world, according to the FAO, as of 2011 more than a third of the adult population is obese and a third of all food produced is lost or wasted. Though it is said that hunger doesn’t discriminate, the poorest nations are suffering the most.

This year’s Global Health Index (GHI) has put a lot of priority on how inequality of all forms determines food insecurity in a country. It is very important to discuss this correlation because everyone needs to be aware and empathetic towards what continues to happen. It is the people or group with the least social, economic or political power - those who are discriminated against or disadvantaged-- who are most affected by food and agricultural policies, but have little say in policy debates dominated by powerful governments and multilateral corporations. With continuing globalization, land grabbing is rampant. LDC countries often face pressure to shape their agricultural policies to suit the preferences of large corporations looking to control the world’s food supply.

Multinational and transnational companies are grabbing land and monopolizing seeds and food markets, as a result of which small holder farmers are more and more marginalized. Today in Nepal packaged foods are common not only in the urban townships but also in remote and hard to reach areas, replacing indigenous food consumption patterns. Farmers rely heavily on seed markets rather than preserving their own seeds, which was common practice even a few years ago.

Food quality is being degraded as farmers are using much chemical pesticide and chemical fertilizer, causing health problems. Though the overall data show Nepal doing well in improving food availability, including relative to some other countries in South Asia, the supply response is simply inadequate to meet the surging demand. Cereal import dependence has been rising, while Nepal‘s capacity to export food has been falling. This can also be linked to the huge out-migration among youth for work in foreign lands in the absence of opportunities in the country.

Within countries too, those who are discriminated against or disadvantaged, including women, ethnic minorities, indigenous peoples, rural dwellers and the poor – are the ones who suffer most.
So, inequality is both the cause and result of food insecurity. Nepal, too, is an example of this.

Nepal's GHI score was in the alarming category in 2000, but has now improved to the serious category, verging on moderate. Yet despite Nepal's progress there are still deep inequalities within the country.

The 2016 Status Report on Food and Nutrition Security in Nepal by the Ministry of Agricultural Development and FAO found that while the average national food supply was high, there were wide variations by income levels and, to a lesser extent, geographical regions. For example, while the share of total expenditure on food was 49 percent for the central region, it was 72 percent for the poorest 10 percent of the population. Variations in expenditure shares on cereals and non-cereals are strongly associated with income level, both in rural and urban areas, with a large spread between the poorest 20 percent and the richest 20 percent of households. These findings point to the need for paying as much attention to addressing these gaps in food insecurity as to enhancing food production at the national level.

This same variation can also be seen in the case of child stunting. Though the national stunting rate is high, at 37.4 percent, it is not extraordinarily so. The highs in some areas, however, are extreme - 63 percent in the Far-Western Hills and 64 percent in the Mid-Western Mountains. These rugged, mountainous areas are in the poorest part of the country, where rainfall is scarce, an irrigation system is lacking, the land is not conducive to farming, and household landholdings for farming are smaller than in the rest of the country. Access to purchased food is constrained due to poor infrastructure, including limited roads and markets. It is as though the Mid-Western and Far Western regions are different from the rest of the country based on the high level of chronic poverty.

There is no doubt developed and powerful nations with big industries are also continuing to deplete our environment which has brought us to this present state of climate change that is affecting poor and least developing countries. The fact is that countries like Nepal are the least contributors of carbon emissions to climate change but still are the ones who continue to suffer the most. And agriculture and food production too is suffering harshly, due to the uncertain patterns of rain and weather. There are three main threats to food security: inequality; the limited role of small-scale farmers; and climate change.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aim to end all forms of hunger and malnutrition by 2030, making sure all people, especially children, have access to sufficient and nutritious food all year round. Similarly, the Istanbul Programme of Action (IPoA) has targeted substantial progress in eradicating hunger in LDCs by 2020.

The Ministry of Agricultural Development claims to highly prioritize the enhancement of food security through a range of programmes and is one of the main partners of the Multi-sector Nutrition Plan of the Government of Nepal. Recently, the Government has also announced restrictions on plotting of agricultural lands but a concrete policy is yet to come. Since Nepal is moving into a new federal structure with powerful local governments working directly on this, only time will tell if this is addressed.

For countries like Nepal to achieve our sustainable development goals, we need everyone to come together to address these pressing concerns, including state representatives, SDG implementation bodies and civil societies. Our next steps must be to ensure that the food system must become more rights-based, less market-based, and more people-centred and designed to take into account the perspectives of the poorest people themselves.


* Focal person for Social Watch from Rural Reconstruction Nepal. Can be contacted at: RRN, GPO box 8130, Kathmandu, Nepal; Tel: (977 1) 4415418; fax: (977 1) 4418296; e-mail:,


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