Friday, 19 February 2010

Doing more with much less

When it comes to growth, many experts hope that Asia will pull the world out of recession. Surprisingly, not many people in the western world realize that Asia-Pacific’s annual population growth has fallen to 1.1%, the lowest rate among the world’s developing region according to the United Nations (UN).
Even with the falling birth rates and emigration, some Asian countries are struggling to feed the poor. Poverty and hunger may cause political instability and will slow down economic growth. The UN also noted that food stability will be a key issue to the Asian growth story.

Global warming and natural disasters also ruined the production of main staples such as rice. Rice prices at one stage went up by 150%. According to the UN, the region had a total of 28 major earthquakes, floods and typhoons affecting more than 101 million people, killing more than 223,000 and causing more than $103 billion worth of damage in 2008 alone.
It is also worth noting that rapid industrialization of many parts of the region continue to take a toll on the environment. In China and Vietnam, between 1992 and 2002, for example, industrial water withdrawal more than tripled. Water has also becoming a scarce commodity in the industry and farmers must fight for water allocation to irrigate their crops.
International food companies such as Coca-Cola, Foster’s and Unilever understand their social obligation. They are looking at more efficient use of water to allow the community to irrigate their farmland. To reduce the impact of climate change, factories are also looking at minimising their electricity consumption and investing in alternative energy sources. Most people will agree that environmental issues and food production are highly correlated and they are not mutually exclusive.
Food is such a basic human need and even school children understand it. In my recent visit to a Hong Kong school, I was fascinated by the children’s work. One boy proudly showed me his painting with a big slogan: “We can do more by using less.” His friends created a depiction of fish in the ocean and titled the work as ‘sustainable fishing.’ A little girl coloured the rice fields green and wrote down ‘responsible farming’ on the top of the paper. The future of these children will depend on adequate supplies of food and water. They are sending important messages to the community.

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