“One, having eaten in the morning a slice of obi non with raisins, fried peas or Circassian walnut, will not be thinking about food for a long time.” – Ibn Sina (Persian polymath, 980-1037 AD)
Central Asia is a fascinating region with a diverse natural environment and a rich food culture. A visitor to the region might be surprised, therefore, to discover that access to “sufficient, safe and nutritious food” on a daily basis can be challenging for many people.
Food security exists “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life,” according to a definition suggested at the World Food Summit of 1996, and implies both access to sufficient food and the availability of resources to support a healthy and nutritious diet.
A highly agrarian region, with over 40% of the population living in rural areas, Central Asia faces a number of food security challenges – shaped by both traditional and modern food practices. While undernourishment, mostly driven by traditional diet, remains a challenge in countries such as Tajikistan and the Kyrgyz Republic, obesity and over-weight attributed to recent welfare improvements and newly-opened access to a wide variety of non-traditional foodstuffs, have already become a concern in many countries of the region.
Digging deeper, we discover that the roots of many food security challenges lie in the political, social and economic turmoil that took place in the region during the post-Soviet transition period, when traditional trade routes were broken, forcing newly created countries to adjust from regional specialization to independent diversified economic structures.
Furthermore, new economies faced broken supply chains and had to deal with a significant decline in national GDP, income, and industrial production. The agriculture sector was among the most affected. Despite minor positive adjustments at the break of this century, the agricultural sector in many countries of the region was hit hard yet again by 2007-08 food price crisis, which further aggravated the food security and nutrition problem in the region.
In 2009, responding to the widespread crisis, the G8 leaders made a commitment through the L’Aquila Food Security Initiative to take “necessary measures to improve world food security, agricultural research, and education in this area.” The Government of the Russian Federation undertook an “Agricultural Development Aid Cooperation” (ADAC) initiative aimed at supporting the improvement of food security in the Eurasian region and globally.
In 2011, under the ADAC initiative, the Eurasian Center for Food Security (ECFS) was established at Lomonosov Moscow State University. In 2012, the Russian Government requested the International Bank of Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) to assist ECFS in institution and capacity building. With support from the IBRD, the Center aims to become an internationally recognized agricultural research hub with dual country and regional focus. The Center would provide four focus countries, Armenia, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, with advice on how to strengthen food sectors capacity through effective policy practices and R&D.
For our team, it has been an exciting yet challenging project, which aims to bring to the region knowledge and collaboration practices previously underdeveloped or muted due to, among other reasons, lack of global interest in the region’s food security concerns. To overcome the challenges, our team has been supporting ECFS in achieving its goal to become a leading regional knowledge and network hub. In order to build effective regional collaboration, it is important to understand the relationship between the countries of the region and build strong web of policy makers, researchers, and educators who understand and strive for region’s prosperity and wellbeing.
To start with, ECFS in collaboration with the World Bank initiated the Eurasian Food Security Network at an international conference held in November 2013 in Moscow. The event provided a forum for discussing knowledge gaps and building partnerships on food security and soil issues critical to the countries of the region. Then, ECFS in partnership with FAO established the Eurasian Soil Partnership (EASP) as part of the wider Global Soil Partnership Network. Since 2015, ECFS serves as the EASP Secretary.
In order to further promote and improve cooperation at the country and regional levels, ECFS, FAO, World Bank, IFPRI and GFAR are co-hosting the International Conference on Eurasian Food Security and Nutrition Network and Eurasian Soil Partnership, which will bring together food policy makers and other experts to discuss the region’s needs in a changing global environment and to develop a framework for further regional collaboration.
With a view to initiating discussion on relevant food security and soil management issues in the region, ECFS, in cooperation with the World Bank, recently launched an online consultation on “Network and Partnerships in the area of Food Security”. The objective of this online consultation is to bring together food policy experts and other stakeholders from the region to identify crucial food security and soil issues and to surface best practices and tools available to tackle these issues collaboratively.
This is a reposting of a World Bank blog post written by Polina Bogomolova & Yulia Mitusova and published on 2 February 2016.
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