Confronting the Issues of Nutrition in Southeast Asia

15 December 2019 Peak Recruitment


The advance of technology continues to enhance both the amount and quality of food available to the world’s populations. Medical science works in tandem with the agriculture industry to streamline food processing in order to make the most nutritious foodstuffs available globally. Consumers are educated about how food they are eating can affect their health and businesses provide necessary information on packaging re nutrition and consider sustainability issues. But there are still great extremes where malnutrition is rife, or obesity and food waste is an inherent danger.

Hunger and malnutrition, which we tend to relate to the poorest third-world countries throughout the world are perhaps a little more prevalent than we would at first imagine. In Southeast Asia for instance the small farmer trying to make ends meet on a daily basis is in danger of going hungry or not being able to provide for the family’s nutritional needs.

Two Extremes

Since man began planting seeds and herding cattle there has been the frightening prospect of hunger or the lack of appropriate nutritional food. Wealthy civilisations have seen the opposite extreme: Obesity and food waste. Now in the 21st century with the advances in food production and fast food, the western world has the choice of eating the right foods but the fast food industry (often cheap fatty foods) leads to obesity and waste. Food readily on tap has led to eating habits which may encourage chronic illness and a reduction in mental and physical abilities.

In many countries, these two extremes live side by side. Especially in Asia. As many South Asian communities welcome and invest in new technologies, economies grow strong and there is often a new-found wealth for the common worker. It would be a mistake however to believe that these changes, which reflect rich countries to the outside world, are not experiencing their own pockets of malnutrition in the lower classes.

The FIA Conference on Future Global Nutrition

In June this year, the FIA (Food Industry Asia) partnered with the World Bank on the South Asia food and Nutrition Initiative) SAFANSFI to explore the impact of promoting high-impact and nutrition-sensitive food systems as well as encouraging public partnerships with the private sector to scale up nutrition efforts.

Yannick Foing, started the discussion by focussing attention on the valuable partnerships which have been created at DSM nutritional products with the sole aim of driving improved nutrition – especially cost-effective and nutritious solutions. They have worked alongside the WFP (World Food Programme) who have distributed these new solutions to such countries as Nepal and Bangladesh.

Which Foods?

With the same goal in mind, Unilever has partnered with the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) to produce their “Future 50 Foods” report. This study looks at the three key factors needed for a sustainable and healthy food system. The results show that 75% of the global food supply originates from just 12 plants and 5 animal species. From this we can deduce that even though consumers may be getting a good amount of calories, they will also be eating a very restricted diet. Vitamins and minerals essential for a nutritious diet would be lost. This report is one of many projects Unilever has produced on this subject and it has led to Unilever’s Knorr brand working with governments and businesses to adopt a wider variety of food that fits Asian lifestyles and budgets.

Reformulation in Food Processing

Another way of tackling global malnutrition is to do more with food processing. Steven Bartholomeusz from the FIA spoke about the need to look at reformulating food ingredients. Estimates suggest that 80% of companies in Southeast Asia are reformulating their products in an effort to either take out or reduce the presence of ingredients such as oil, fat, sugar, and salt. Alongside of this is also the goal of adding proteins and vitamins and minerals.

However, the smaller business within the food industry struggle to reformulate because of the high costs it entails and because of the lack of in-house technical expertise to do so. It is hoped that when governments recognise the ethical necessity for these changes, support for the small businessman via financial incentives will follow

The Private Sector Working Successfully with The Public Sector

With all of these grand ethical goals the panel that gathered together in June of this year agreed that taste and quality of food should always remain paramount. The results of a recent survey in China suggested that consumers would be willing to eat more nutritious foods as long as they did not have to sacrifice the taste of their favourite foods.

There was an overall feeling from the panel that there were a great many things businesses within the food industry could do to create more nutritious foods, but it could only be sustained if the private sector worked together with the public sector as partners.

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