Food security a key area of focus for Asean and G-20: Indonesian minister

Asean members are discussing how each of them will allocate logistics, resources and stocks for the region's necessary food. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

SINGAPORE - Ensuring nations have reliable access to sufficient and affordable food will continue to be on the agenda for future high-level meetings between regional and global leaders, amid uncertain economic conditions and disrupted supply chains.

Food security has been a key area of focus for regional grouping Asean and the Group of 20 (G-20), said Indonesia's Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs Airlangga Hartarto on Monday (Aug 29).

During a lecture he was giving in Singapore, Mr Airlangga was asked about Indonesia's role chairing these two groupings, and what its next steps would be. South-east Asia's biggest economy is currently the chair of the G-20, and will be assuming the chairmanship for Asean next year.

Within Asean, member states are now discussing how each one of them will allocate logistics, resources and stocks for the region's necessary food, he said, adding that the nations had earlier agreed that rice is a staple food item for the region.

Indonesia has taken a similar approach to G-20, said Mr Airlangga. "We use this model also for the G-20 meeting. For food security, we have to understand which commodities that you would like - strategic commodities... for each country is different.

"But the most important is providing multinational financing, and funding that is available to source the food."

Last month at a two-day meeting in Bali, Indonesia, finance chiefs from the G-20 committed to tackling the worsening food insecurity, but they remained deadlocked over Russia's role in the crisis.

According to the World Food Programme, a humanitarian aid organisation, 323 million people around the world could face severe food insecurity this year, twice the number before Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine.

Mr Airlangga's lecture, organised by the Nanyang Technological University's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), was held at the Parkroyal Collection Marina Bay.

His talk touched on the issue of inequality in the region, with Mr Airlangga stressing how Asean member countries must be bold in implementing domestic reforms to achieve inclusive growth.

Although several countries have been able to achieve impressive growth in the past two decades, this comes at the cost of rising income inequality within their societies, he said.

Covid-19 has made this worse, and the minister shared a report by the Asian Development Bank, released in March, which noted that 4.7 million people in the region were plunged into extreme poverty last year as a result of the pandemic.

Job losses are also getting worse, and Mr Airlangga shared how the coronavirus has led to a loss of more than 9.3 million jobs in South-east Asia. With job creation stunted, incomes fall further and those who are already poor are hit the hardest, he said.

"Asean has much work to do to ensure that, as we emerge from the pandemic, everyone can benefit equally from the rebound in economic growth," he said.

"There is no point in attaining stellar gross domestic product figures if growth is not inclusive and the fruits of prosperity are not enjoyed by the man on the street."

Mr Airlangga was asked if he would be a candidate in the Indonesian presidential election in 2024. The 59-year-old, who is chairman of Indonesia's oldest party Golkar, has been cited as a contender.

Noting that the registration for the presidential election is in September 2023, Mr Airlangga told the audience to watch out for more information then.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.