Ensuring South Asia’s food security requires knowledge, data sharing

Collaborations in knowledge and data sharing in agriculture and food production along with multilateral trade facilitation among the countries are necessary to ensure food security in South Asia, according to experts.

The cooperation can improve cultivation practices and increase crop variety as the region's countries share similarities in climate and agriculture, said Abid Qaiyum Suleri, executive director of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute of Pakistan, at a virtual programme of the World Bank on Monday.

"Data sharing can help reduce food prices in the region too," he told the event chaired by Cecile Fruman, a World Bank director for regional integration and engagement in South Asia.

The collaborations can come about through the countries' agricultural universities and research centres, he said.

Nazneen Ahmed, a senior research fellow of the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, echoed Suleri.

She said Bangladesh and India need to share real-time data on the water as the former's northern part has been in crying need for it for agriculture.

For agricultural development, academic and trade collaborations are essential along with technology sharing, she added.

"All the trade barriers among us should be removed to secure food safety in the region," said Ahmed, adding that the Covid-19 pandemic gave a lesson on enhancing multilateral and technology-based trade.

During the pandemic, the limiting of onion export by India created a huge problem in Bangladesh though it was solved shortly, she clarified.

Women and children were more affected during the pandemic because they have fewer assets and many of them lost jobs, the researcher said, adding that the Covid-19 was increasing their vulnerability.

The collaborations should also focus on gender issues, said Ahmed.

Responding to a question, she said some political issues were hindering trade facilitation under the Saarc forum.

So, some of the countries are looking forward to bilateral trade, which is a step towards multilateral trade. "We never witnessed such a crisis, so the pathogen showed us how important it is to enhance trade in the whole region," said Ahmed.

Restriction on the movement of products among states is one of the main challenges of food security in India because it impacts the price level, said Will Martin, a senior research fellow with the International Food Policy Research Institute.

"The problem remains in the region too. So, you have to ensure movement of products among the countries in the region," he said.

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