Rice is a staple for the majority of the 1.7 billion South Asian population and a source of livelihood for more than 50 million households. Apart from its economic and strategic importance, rice is deeply engraved in the rich tradition and culture of many South Asian countries. The region cultivates rice on 60 million hectares and produces slightly above 225 million tons of paddy, accounting for 37.5% of the global area and 32% of global production in 2013. Within South Asia, both India and Bangladesh are major rice-growing countries. India has the largest rice area in the world with 43 million hectares (more than a quarter of the global rice area) and contributes a little less than a quarter of global production. Bangladesh has more than 11 million hectares of rice area and produces 50 million tons of paddies.
The other three rice-growing countries in South Asia—Pakistan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka—together have slightly above 5 million hectares of rice area and produce 17 million tons of paddy. Current paddy production in South Asia is more than 300% more than what it was at the start of the Green Revolution in the late 1960s.
Wheat is the second major staple crop, after rice, in India and Pakistan and is also gaining similar importance in Nepal and Bangladesh. Wheat production in South Asia has increased from 15mt in 1960s to 112mt during 2005–2014.
The most serious constraints to wheat production in this region are a host of biotic and abiotic stresses. Although India has not faced any rust epidemic in the last decade, rusts continue to occupy the place of most dangerous pathogen for the region. Among the abiotic stresses, unusual warming trends during grain filling period are causing yield declines, especially in eastern and central India. There are other challenges that are specific to the highly productive rice–wheat cropping system predominant in the Indo-Gangetic plains. The total factor productivity of this system is declining due to depletion of soil organic carbon. Addition of organic matter to soil through green manuring and crop residue recycling, balanced fertilization, integrated nutrient management, diversification of rice-wheat system are some of the possible remedial measures to improve total factor productivity.
Maize is a major food, feed and industrial crop and offers immense opportunities for attaining nutritional security in the region. In fact, annual production growth rate in maize had been higher in Asia compared to global average, reflecting thereby tremendous potential for future upscaling and outscaling of innovations to have greater impact on livelihoods of smallholder farmers. The demand for maize is also expected to double by 2050.
The importance of maize in Asia’s cropping systems has grown rapidly in recent years, with several countries registering impressive growth in production and productivity rates. There is scope for further expansion of maize area in the region, as well as tremendous opportunities for innovations in crop improvement, management and diversification. The international and national institutions engaged in maize research and development are also emphasizing foresight, technology targeting, partnerships involving all stakeholders and capacity development to effectively out scale innovations for greater impact.
Since the SAARC Food Security Reserve was established in 1987, the regional food reserve for the emergencies was increased by 20% from 199,800 mt in 1987 to 241,580 mt in 1988. There was a quantum jump in the reserve by 100% from 1988 stock to 486,000 mt in 2007. The SAARC region with 1.744 billion people and annual food grain requirement of 244 million tons (estimated based on 140 kg/head/year consumption rate), the total reserve represents 0.2% of the total requirement.
Although the reserve may not have been used through the SAARC Food Bank protocol, there have been several instances of generosity and solidarity in the times of need and emergencies. This truly is in the spirit of SAARC and collective self-reliance in respect of food security in the times of emergencies.
SAARC Member States established the SAARC Food Security Reserve (SFSR) in 1987 during the Third SAARC Summit (Kathmandu, 1987) with an objective to provide a reserve of food grains for meeting Food emergencies in member countries. The initial size of the reserve was 1,99,800 MTs which was enhanced to 241,580 MTs in 2002. It gave rise to the present SAARC Food bank which was decided by the 12th SAARC Summit (Islamabad, 4-6 January 2004). The Agreement was signed by the 14th SAARC Summit (New Delhi, 3-4 April 2007) and came into operation since October 2008. On completion of the ratification and notification of the Secretariat, the Agreement entered into force on 7 January 2013.
So far nine meetings of the SAARC Food Bank board meeting has been convened and the 10th Meeting is scheduled to be held in Islamabad on 03-04 December 2018.
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