Putting population pressures on the table in Asia

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Often pinpointed as the saviour source central to food security strategies, Southeast Asian nations are more likely to export less in years to come. As urban population growth raises aggregate demand and exponentially eats up domestic production, more resource-intensive food items will be strained along the way due to the new-found economic freedom of the nouveau middle class.

By Justin Calderon

In the period between 1990 and 2010, Southeast Asian urban centres saw the fastest growth in urban to rural population portion in the Asia-Pacific, according to data from the UNESCAP, a trend widely expected to continue (figure 1). This also reflects a larger global trend: In the same period, the world’s urban population overtook its rural population for the first time in human history. Fifty-one percent of the planet now resides in urban areas, a shift forecasted to stay on course at a pace of 1.9 per cent a year.

Figure 1: Index of urban proportion, Asia-Pacific subregions, 1990-2010
Source: UNESCAP
(Click to enlarge)

While Southeast Asia’s rapid urban population growth of 2.2 per cent a year will continue to overtax already inadequate infrastructure in cities such as Bangkok, Manila, Ho Chi Minh City and Jakarta, South Asia has seen the fastest growth in the Asia-Pacific, creating the opportunity to point to jarring comparisons. In India, over one million new urban residents will be tacked onto cities per month, the equivalent of spawning a new Hong Kong or Singapore every year.

So what does this unprecedented swell in urban population mean for food security?

The attraction of urban centres is economical. Cities are where inequitable amounts of money are made compared to jobs in the rural economy. The wealth generation that is a part of urban living gives previously agrarian citizens in Asia more spending power, which leads to diversified diets, often of less nutritional value. This coupled with the disproportionate youth population of emergent economies such as the Philippines and Indonesia, who increasingly idealise Western norms, will foment the environment to create higher demand for more expensive protein-rich meat products along with an aggregate uptick in staple commodities such as rice, coffee and beans.

The eventual effects of this new rise in consumerism throughout the developing world can best be interpreted through the lenses of Indonesia. With a population of 239 million people, it is the fourth largest country in the world, of which 50 per cent of its citizens are under the age of 30. Indonesia’s BRICS-worthy developmental story will, much like food demand coming from China, a rival to the archipelago on many fronts, pressure global food supplies.

Figure 2: Number of Households with Annual Disposable Income over US$10,000 (Constant) and Household Disposable Income Real Growth in Indonesia: 2006-2020
(Click to enlarge)

The average household income in Indonesia stood at $6,901 per month in 2011, representing a 5 per cent annual growth in income between 2006 and 2011. According to Euromonitor International, this wide-spread surge in wealth across Southeast Asia’s largest economy is expected to march forward, with the amount of households earning over $10,000 a year to double between the years of 2012 and 2020 from 15 million to over 30 million (figure 2).

This dramatic rise in wealth will allow previously staid appetites to venture into finer and costly foods, namely those higher in protein, having tremendous effects on global resources. Often overlooked is the consumption of water required to produce food. Below is a list of figures first presented by David Pimentel, Laura Westra and Reed F. Noss in Ecological Integrity: Integrating Environment, Conservation and Health detailing how much water it takes to produce various foodstuffs.

Potatoes: 60 gallons of water per pound (or 547 liters/kg)

Wheat: 108 gallons per pound (or 986 liters/kg)

Corn: 168 gallons per pound (or 1,534 liters/kg)

Rice: 229 gallons per pound (or 2,901 liters/kg)

Soybeans: 240 gallons per pound (or 2,191 liters/kg)

Beef: 12,009 gallons per pound (or 109,671 liters/kg)

The ability of food-producing nations to quench internal demand of their own citizens will get frighteningly harder, with valuable natural resources being drained concomitantly against the inexorable economic rise of the emergent world. Thomas Malthus published an essay in 1798 predicting this exact catastrophe: a scenario when the demands of growing populations outstrip that of agricultural production. Taken into consideration the perils faced by farmers in the form of floods and global warming, and the possible shortcomings in agricultural supply becomes even more alarming.

In years past, however, others analysts (mostly scientists and some economists) have come up with a rival theory, labeling themselves cornucopians. These “futurists” believe that advances in technology and the materials that we consume will, in fact, outpace the rise of demand purported to parallel population growth. Cornucopians are often proponents of biotechnological studies that promote genetically modified food. This view also posits that natural resources aren’t as finite as most are led to believe and that scientific solutions will present themselves given due course.

Which ever side is supported, the fundamental needs of humanity on the globe today will continue to demand food in means and manners that will test our ingenuity in the fields of production, sustainability and allocation like never before. How we work together to derive less resource-intensive diets and more technologically advanced foods will determine what time the buffet closes.

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

Often pinpointed as the saviour source central to food security strategies, Southeast Asian nations are more likely to export less in years to come. As urban population growth raises aggregate demand and exponentially eats up domestic production, more resource-intensive food items will be strained along the way due to the new-found economic freedom of the nouveau middle class.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Often pinpointed as the saviour source central to food security strategies, Southeast Asian nations are more likely to export less in years to come. As urban population growth raises aggregate demand and exponentially eats up domestic production, more resource-intensive food items will be strained along the way due to the new-found economic freedom of the nouveau middle class.

By Justin Calderon

In the period between 1990 and 2010, Southeast Asian urban centres saw the fastest growth in urban to rural population portion in the Asia-Pacific, according to data from the UNESCAP, a trend widely expected to continue (figure 1). This also reflects a larger global trend: In the same period, the world’s urban population overtook its rural population for the first time in human history. Fifty-one percent of the planet now resides in urban areas, a shift forecasted to stay on course at a pace of 1.9 per cent a year.

Figure 1: Index of urban proportion, Asia-Pacific subregions, 1990-2010
Source: UNESCAP
(Click to enlarge)

While Southeast Asia’s rapid urban population growth of 2.2 per cent a year will continue to overtax already inadequate infrastructure in cities such as Bangkok, Manila, Ho Chi Minh City and Jakarta, South Asia has seen the fastest growth in the Asia-Pacific, creating the opportunity to point to jarring comparisons. In India, over one million new urban residents will be tacked onto cities per month, the equivalent of spawning a new Hong Kong or Singapore every year.

So what does this unprecedented swell in urban population mean for food security?

The attraction of urban centres is economical. Cities are where inequitable amounts of money are made compared to jobs in the rural economy. The wealth generation that is a part of urban living gives previously agrarian citizens in Asia more spending power, which leads to diversified diets, often of less nutritional value. This coupled with the disproportionate youth population of emergent economies such as the Philippines and Indonesia, who increasingly idealise Western norms, will foment the environment to create higher demand for more expensive protein-rich meat products along with an aggregate uptick in staple commodities such as rice, coffee and beans.

The eventual effects of this new rise in consumerism throughout the developing world can best be interpreted through the lenses of Indonesia. With a population of 239 million people, it is the fourth largest country in the world, of which 50 per cent of its citizens are under the age of 30. Indonesia’s BRICS-worthy developmental story will, much like food demand coming from China, a rival to the archipelago on many fronts, pressure global food supplies.

Figure 2: Number of Households with Annual Disposable Income over US$10,000 (Constant) and Household Disposable Income Real Growth in Indonesia: 2006-2020
(Click to enlarge)

The average household income in Indonesia stood at $6,901 per month in 2011, representing a 5 per cent annual growth in income between 2006 and 2011. According to Euromonitor International, this wide-spread surge in wealth across Southeast Asia’s largest economy is expected to march forward, with the amount of households earning over $10,000 a year to double between the years of 2012 and 2020 from 15 million to over 30 million (figure 2).

This dramatic rise in wealth will allow previously staid appetites to venture into finer and costly foods, namely those higher in protein, having tremendous effects on global resources. Often overlooked is the consumption of water required to produce food. Below is a list of figures first presented by David Pimentel, Laura Westra and Reed F. Noss in Ecological Integrity: Integrating Environment, Conservation and Health detailing how much water it takes to produce various foodstuffs.

Potatoes: 60 gallons of water per pound (or 547 liters/kg)

Wheat: 108 gallons per pound (or 986 liters/kg)

Corn: 168 gallons per pound (or 1,534 liters/kg)

Rice: 229 gallons per pound (or 2,901 liters/kg)

Soybeans: 240 gallons per pound (or 2,191 liters/kg)

Beef: 12,009 gallons per pound (or 109,671 liters/kg)

The ability of food-producing nations to quench internal demand of their own citizens will get frighteningly harder, with valuable natural resources being drained concomitantly against the inexorable economic rise of the emergent world. Thomas Malthus published an essay in 1798 predicting this exact catastrophe: a scenario when the demands of growing populations outstrip that of agricultural production. Taken into consideration the perils faced by farmers in the form of floods and global warming, and the possible shortcomings in agricultural supply becomes even more alarming.

In years past, however, others analysts (mostly scientists and some economists) have come up with a rival theory, labeling themselves cornucopians. These “futurists” believe that advances in technology and the materials that we consume will, in fact, outpace the rise of demand purported to parallel population growth. Cornucopians are often proponents of biotechnological studies that promote genetically modified food. This view also posits that natural resources aren’t as finite as most are led to believe and that scientific solutions will present themselves given due course.

Which ever side is supported, the fundamental needs of humanity on the globe today will continue to demand food in means and manners that will test our ingenuity in the fields of production, sustainability and allocation like never before. How we work together to derive less resource-intensive diets and more technologically advanced foods will determine what time the buffet closes.

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