AARES looks at Australia’s role in Asia’s food system

Grain Central, February 6, 2024

Cornell University international development economist Professor Prabhu Pingali is a speaker at this week’s AARES conference in Canberra.

DELEGATES from around Australia and the world global are gathering in Canberra this week for the Australasian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society (AARES) conference to hear the latest on a range of topics.

Under the theme Grand Challenges at the Frontier of Applied Economics, the four-day program includes speakers including eminent economist Professor Prabhu Pingali, a global specialist on food and agricultural policy, technology change and impact assessment across the developing world.

His talk will look at whether the negative consequences of the current food system can be reversed, whether a food system can emerge in Australasia that is healthy for people and planet, and what Australia’s role can be in a win-win transformation.

Prof Pingali is based at the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University in the US, with a joint appointment in the Department of Global Development.

He is also chair of the governing board of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), an important germplasm source for varieties grown in Australia and elsewhere of chickpea, sorghum, millet, pigeon pea, and peanuts.

“There are political and humanitarian reasons for Australia to be pleased to have seen and contributed to the phenomenal changes in Asia’s food systems over the past century, beating the Malthusian scare of widespread hunger and starvation,” Prof Pingali said ahead of the conference.

“Agricultural transformation also kick-started overall economic growth, moving most Asian countries into middle-income status and healthy trade partnerships with Australia.”

Prof Pingali was formerly with the Agricultural Development Division of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and was a director of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s Agriculture and Development Economics Division.

He said Asia’s move towards food security has come with long-term costs and unintended consequences.

“Strong political support for enhancing the supply of staple grains has resulted in reduced emphasis on the nutritional quality of the food system, and high levels of malnutrition and child stunting continue to persist.

“The ability to acquire a balanced diet is hampered by relatively high and volatile prices for non-staple foods.”

He said intensification of crop production has resulted in significant environmental damage, and climate impacts.

“The slow growth of non-farm employment opportunities is widening rural-urban income disparities, and stubbornly high levels of rural poverty, particularly in dryland areas.

“However, on the positive side, rising urban middle-class demand for diet diversity can help induce a widening of food choices and create new opportunities for rural growth and health.

“Also, increased consumer awareness of food quality and sustainability could lead to improved incentives for environmentally smarter and climate-friendly production practices.”

“However, the stickiness of existing agricultural policies and the difficult politics around policy reform could impede progress towards a more nutritious, environmentally sustainable and climate friendly food system, in Australia and further afield.



Prof Pingali said Australian agricultural R&D organisations, such as the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, have been wielding “soft power” and diplomatic impact as important conduits for information and technology transfer on smarter and more sustainable farming practices for decades.

“More broadly, and with more focused funding, support and research, Australia can play a greater role with its neighbours in a regional shift towards healthier food systems, while it also navigates this necessary transition from a focus on production to a holistic food systems approach that explicitly accounts for synergies and tradeoffs between food, health, environment and climate change.”


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your comment will not appear until it has been moderated.
Contributions that contravene our Comments Policy will not be published.


Get Grain Central's news headlines emailed to you -