South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), a contagious block of countries, started journey with seven countries like Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka when it was established in 1985, but extended to include Afghanistan as eight members in 2006.  The region contains cultural similarities including similar food habit exists in the region, e.g. rice is the common food grain around the South Asia.

With the cultural similarities, the region has economic dissimilarities which impacts on the lives and livelihood to its people in different countries within South Asia. Major dissimilarities in GDP in per capita, e.g. GDP per Capita  in Nepal $427, Bangladesh $551, Afghanistan $900, India $1,271, Pakistan $1,023, Bhutan $1,832, Maldives $4,388 and Sri Lanka $5,300.

Table: Demographic and economic dissimilarities among South Asian Countries[1]


Area (km2)

Density (/km2)

GDP Per Capita (2009)













Sri Lanka








N epal












With an objective to extend cultural cooperation within the South Asian Countries, later SAARC has realized the importance of economic links with cultural development; aiming to build a self-reliant South Asia, therefore, the member countries are discussing now to extend the economic cooperation among the states. Being a self-reliant region, South Asia has a major challenge to ensure food security within the region to feed its people.

Context of Food Security in South Asia

Economic development is normally accompanied by improvements in a country’s food supply and the gradual elimination of dietary deficiencies, thus improving the overall nutritional status of the country’s population. Furthermore, it also brings about qualitative changes in the production, processing, distribution and marketing of food which will enhance the local consumption before trade. Food Sovereignty as well as food self-sufficiency is a major issue within the South Asia which goes beyond the concept of food security. FAO also states, food strategies must not merely be directed at ensuring food security for all, but must also achieve the consumption of adequate quantities of safe and good quality foods that together make up a healthy diet[2]. The policy leaders of SAARC state should keep this context for formulating food security policy for this region.

Food Production within South Asian Countries[3]

In South Asia, only Pakistan and India seem to have done better than the other countries in terms of their performance in per capita food production .So far, Pakistan and India have effectively managed a food crisis even under unprecedented drought conditions in 2000-2001 (In Pakistan) the population growth has consistently decreased from 3.1 per cent in 1971-75 to 2.6 per cent in 1986-90 and 2.4 per cent in 1996-2000. The food production is growing at a stable rate from around an average of 3.4 per cent in 1976-85 to well above 4 per cent in the last 15 years. Domestic food availability is, however, increasing at a decreasing rate due to increasing processed food exports. This holds true for India as well.

In Bangladesh, population growth outpaced the growth in food production during the last three decades. The cereal yield (kg/h) growth rate that increased from 1.1 per cent in 1971-75 to 2.4 per cent in 1981-85 has decreased to 1.7 per cent in 1996-00. The per capita food production growth rate has been negative over the period 1971-96. Similarly, per capita food availability did not improve much until 1996-2000. The devastating floods of 1998 exposed Bangladesh’s vulnerability to natural catastrophes. It is only recently that the country has managed to increase its food production by 4.1 per cent (1996-2000) and per capita food availability by 1.8 per cent in 1996-2000.

The situation in Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka is not much different. In Bhutan, population increased from 1.4 per cent in 1971-75 to 2.0 per cent in 1976-85, and further to 2.9 per cent in 1996-2000. For the last 15 years, growth in food production has been lower than the population growth. Food production has decreased from 3.8 per cent in 1981-85 to 0.6 per cent (1986-90); rising briefly to 2.2 per cent (1991-95) and falling again to 1.1 per cent (1996-2000). Bhutan has consistently witnessed a declining trend in cereal yield per hectare and per capita food production.

In Nepal, population is growing at an average rate of 2.5 per cent while food production is fluctuating from a high growth rate of 5 per cent in 1981-85 to 2.2 per cent in 1991-95 and 2.5 per cent in 1996-2000. The per capita food availability, which had been growing strongly at 2.1 per cent in 1981-85 and 3.2 per cent in 1986-90, has shown a negative growth rate in recent decade.

In Sri Lanka, although population growth is not as high as in other countries of the region, yet food production is fluctuating erratically. The population is increasing at a decreasing pace; growing at 1.6 per cent in 1971-75 it has slowed down to 1.3 per cent in 1996-2000. This led to a declining trend in per capita food production and food supply.


Forty percent of the world’s hungry lived in South Asia, even before the food price crisis of 2008. Hunger silently stalks the entire region, from the steep mountain slopes of Nepal to the dry, arid plains of southern Afghanistan. Although large-scale famines have largely been kept at bay, millions of poor people in Bangladesh, unable to afford two square meals a day and left literally clutching at straws[4].  On the other hand of hunger, we found a declining trend in per capita food production and supply in most of the South Asian Countries except India and Pakistan. In this context, SAARC should extend its cooperation in food production within the South Asian Countries.

Establishment of SAARC SEED BANK

In the context of poverty and hunger around the region, South Asian policy leaders should extend cooperation to support its small and medium farms as well as farmers for providing the agricultural inputs, particularly the quality seeds for boosting its local food production towards being self-reliant in food production. At the Thimpu SAARC Summit, Prime Minister of Bangladesh proposed to establish a regional seed bank which incorporated in the Thimpu Declaration. Policy leaders of SAARC states should make a pro-active decision to establish SAARC SEED BANK in the forthcoming summit to be held in Maldives.

Operationalise of SAARC FOOD BANK

During the food crisis in 2008, as a food importer countries like Bangladesh have a critical experience in food import which increasing the hunger within the countries. Bangladesh could not get food to import from international market as well as from India due to restriction of state in food export to tackle to local food demands which made a worsen situation of food crisis in Bangladesh. The SAARC policy leaders has already taken decision to establishment of SAARC FOOD BANK. Now this is the time to make it operationalise. The people of South Asian region expects a pro-active decision from the SAARC policy leaders to operationalise the SAARC FOOD BANK from Male SAARC Summit.


[3] Report on Human Development in South Asia by Mahbub ul Haq, Human Development Centre

[4] Nourish South Asia, Oxfam Campaign Report, September 2011

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