At the dawn of the twenty-first century, about 900 million or 68 percent of the world's poor people1 live in Asia; about 500 million in South Asia, 300 million in East Asia, and 100 million in Southeast Asia and the Pacific (World Bank 1999). In addition, about 526 million people, including 160 million children, are undernourished2 (FAO 1999c). Not only do they lack access to sufficient money to buy food and other essentials, but neither do they have access to sufficient schooling, adequate housing, nor medical care. Those in rural areas are often short of water and fuel. Fertile land and water for farming are increasingly scarce. Urban poor lack money to buy enough food. That which they can afford may be deficient in protein and essential vitamins and minerals.

Although the absolute numbers of people living in poverty in Asia today are unacceptable, the situation could be much worse. In 1970, 60 percent of all Asians lived in poverty. That figure has been cut by almost half, with about one third of all Asians living in poverty in 2000. Also, countries such as Bangladesh, the People's Republic of China (PRC), and India have moved from periodic famines to almost self-sufficiency in food production. However, further efforts are needed to reduce poverty by another 50 percent by 2015, as targeted by world leaders during the World Food Summit in 1997. The latter half of the twentieth century saw impressive advances in science and technology. We now have the capacity to apply this knowledge to reduce poverty and improve food security. This Working Paper discusses how biotechnology can be used to safely and effectively reduce poverty and improve food security in Asia.

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