IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

Food systems transformation in Asia – A brief economic history


  • Prabhu Pingali
  • Mathew Abraham


Asia's food systems have undergone rapid economic and socio‐cultural transformations in the past 60 years. During the period, almost all the countries in the region eradicated famines and achieved food self‐sufficiency and heterogeneous levels of poverty reduction. Food system transformation in Asian countries has had similarities and differences and has been closely tied to structural transformation, political processes, and integration with the global economy. This article conducts a historical assessment of food systems transformations in seven Asian countries between 1960 and 2020 and their main economic, social, and demographic drivers. Food systems transformations are presented in terms of four phases. In the first phase, between 1960 and 1980, when most Asian countries were low‐income and low‐middle‐income, the central focus was on hunger reduction. We explore the policies and the politics of the green revolution as various Asian countries tried to achieve self‐sufficiency in food grains. In the second phase (1980–2000), agricultural productivity growth led to structural transformation, income growth, and the divergence of lower‐middle‐income and middle‐income economies, directly impacting demand for food quantity, quality, and diversity in various countries. The third phase (2000 onwards) marked a quantum change in food systems as globalization, trade integration, and changes in consumer tastes were significant drivers of food systems. We assess the changing trends in organized retail expansion, increased consumption of processed foods, and rising incidence of obesity in lower and upper‐middle‐income countries. In the final phase (beyond 2020), we highlight how the digital revolution has changed consumer behavior, and is further transforming food systems. Future food systems challenges of hunger, malnutrition, rising non‐communicable diseases, and climate change are discussed and multisectoral and multicountry policy interventions for addressing them are presented.

Suggested Citation

  • Prabhu Pingali & Mathew Abraham, 2022. "Food systems transformation in Asia – A brief economic history," Agricultural Economics, International Association of Agricultural Economists, vol. 53(6), pages 895-910, November.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:agecon:v:53:y:2022:i:6:p:895-910
    DOI: 10.1111/agec.12734

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    File URL:
    LibKey link: if access is restricted and if your library uses this service, LibKey will redirect you to where you can use your library subscription to access this item

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Lioutas, Evagelos D. & Charatsari, Chrysanthi & De Rosa, Marcello, 2021. "Digitalization of agriculture: A way to solve the food problem or a trolley dilemma?," Technology in Society, Elsevier, vol. 67(C).
    2. Marcel Fafchamps, 2003. "Rural Poverty, Risk and Development," Books, Edward Elgar Publishing, number 3127.
    3. Béné, Christophe & Oosterveer, Peter & Lamotte, Lea & Brouwer, Inge D. & de Haan, Stef & Prager, Steve D. & Talsma, Elise F. & Khoury, Colin K., 2019. "When food systems meet sustainability – Current narratives and implications for actions," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 113(C), pages 116-130.
    4. Michael Carter & Christopher Barrett, 2006. "The economics of poverty traps and persistent poverty: An asset-based approach," Journal of Development Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 42(2), pages 178-199.
    5. Rozelle, Scott & Rahimi, Heather & Wang, Huan & Dill, Eve, 2020. "Lockdowns are protecting China’s rural families from COVID-19, but the economic burden is heavy," IFPRI book chapters, in: COVID-19 and global food security, chapter 11, pages 52-55, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
    6. Summers, Lawrence H & Pritchett, Lant H, 1993. "The Structural-Adjustment Debate," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(2), pages 383-389, May.
    7. McMillan, Margaret & Rodrik, Dani & Verduzco-Gallo, Íñigo, 2014. "Globalization, Structural Change, and Productivity Growth, with an Update on Africa," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 63(C), pages 11-32.
    8. Barrett, Christopher B. & Bachke, Maren E. & Bellemare, Marc F. & Michelson, Hope C. & Narayanan, Sudha & Walker, Thomas F., 2012. "Smallholder Participation in Contract Farming: Comparative Evidence from Five Countries," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 40(4), pages 715-730.
    9. Aiyar, Anaka & Rahman, Andaleeb & Pingali, Prabhu, 2021. "India’s rural transformation and rising obesity burden," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 138(C).
    10. Lajoie-O'Malley, Alana & Bronson, Kelly & van der Burg, Simone & Klerkx, Laurens, 2020. "The future(s) of digital agriculture and sustainable food systems: An analysis of high-level policy documents," Ecosystem Services, Elsevier, vol. 45(C).
    11. Minten, Bart & Reardon, Thomas & Sutradhar, Rajib, 2010. "Food Prices and Modern Retail: The Case of Delhi," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 38(12), pages 1775-1787, December.
    12. Merlinda D. Ingco, 2003. "Agriculture, Trade, and the WTO in South Asia," World Bank Publications - Books, The World Bank Group, number 15072, December.
    13. Popkin, Barry M., 2006. "Technology, transport, globalization and the nutrition transition food policy," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 31(6), pages 554-569, December.
    14. Douglas Gollin & Casper Worm Hansen & Asger Mose Wingender, 2021. "Two Blades of Grass: The Impact of the Green Revolution," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 129(8), pages 2344-2384.
    15. Athanasios Balafoutis & Bert Beck & Spyros Fountas & Jurgen Vangeyte & Tamme Van der Wal & Iria Soto & Manuel Gómez-Barbero & Andrew Barnes & Vera Eory, 2017. "Precision Agriculture Technologies Positively Contributing to GHG Emissions Mitigation, Farm Productivity and Economics," Sustainability, MDPI, vol. 9(8), pages 1-28, July.
    16. Pingali, Prabhu, 2007. "Westernization of Asian diets and the transformation of food systems: Implications for research and policy," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 32(3), pages 281-298, June.
    17. Richard Sheldon, 2010. "Famine: a short history – By Cormac Ó Gráda," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 63(2), pages 564-565, May.
    18. Popkin, Barry M., 1999. "Urbanization, Lifestyle Changes and the Nutrition Transition," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 27(11), pages 1905-1916, November.
    19. Cormac Ó Gráda, 2007. "Making Famine History," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 45(1), pages 5-38, March.
    20. Min, Shi & Liu, Min & Huang, Jikun, 2020. "Does the application of ICTs facilitate rural economic transformation in China? Empirical evidence from the use of smartphones among farmers," Journal of Asian Economics, Elsevier, vol. 70(C).
    21. Daum, Thomas & Villalba, Roberto & Anidi, Oluwakayode & Mayienga, Sharon Masakhwe & Gupta, Saurabh & Birner, Regina, 2021. "Uber for tractors? Opportunities and challenges of digital tools for tractor hire in India and Nigeria," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 144(C).
    22. Prabhu Pingali & Naveen Sunder, 2017. "Transitioning Toward Nutrition-Sensitive Food Systems in Developing Countries," Annual Review of Economics, Annual Reviews, vol. 9(1), pages 439-459, October.
    23. Liang Lu & Thomas Reardon, 2018. "An Economic Model of the Evolution of Food Retail and Supply Chains from Traditional Shops to Supermarkets to E-Commerce," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 100(5), pages 1320-1335.
    24. Prabhu Pingali & Naveen Sunder, 2017. "Transitioning Toward Nutrition-Sensitive Food Systems in Developing Countries," Annual Review of Resource Economics, Annual Reviews, vol. 9(1), pages 439-459, October.
    25. Justin Yifu Lin, 1987. "The Household Responsibility System Reform in China: A Peasant's Institutional Choice," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 69(2), pages 410-415.
    26. Fischer, Klara, 2016. "Why new crop technology is not scale-neutral—A critique of the expectations for a crop-based African Green Revolution," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 45(6), pages 1185-1194.
    27. Prabhu Pingali & Anaka Aiyar & Mathew Abraham & Andaleeb Rahman, 2019. "Transforming Food Systems for a Rising India," Palgrave Studies in Agricultural Economics and Food Policy, Palgrave Macmillan, number 978-3-030-14409-8, June.
    28. Johan F. M. Swinnen & Miet Maertens, 2007. "Globalization, privatization, and vertical coordination in food value chains in developing and transition countries," Agricultural Economics, International Association of Agricultural Economists, vol. 37(s1), pages 89-102, December.
    29. C. Peter Timmer, 2017. "Food Security, Structural Transformation, Markets and Government Policy," Asia and the Pacific Policy Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 4(1), pages 4-19, January.
    30. Sukallaya Kasem & Gopal B. Thapa, 2012. "Sustainable development policies and achievements in the context of the agriculture sector in Thailand," Sustainable Development, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 20(2), pages 98-114, March.
    31. Bruno Basso & John Antle, 2020. "Digital agriculture to design sustainable agricultural systems," Nature Sustainability, Nature, vol. 3(4), pages 254-256, April.
    32. Jessica Fanzo & Claire Davis, 2021. "Global Food Systems, Diets, and Nutrition," Palgrave Studies in Agricultural Economics and Food Policy, Palgrave Macmillan, number 978-3-030-72763-5, June.
    33. Pingali, Prabhu L & Xuan, Vo-Tong, 1992. "Vietnam: Decollectivization and Rice Productivity Growth," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 40(4), pages 697-718, July.
    34. Richard Heeks, 2010. "Do information and communication technologies (ICTs) contribute to development?," Journal of International Development, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 22(5), pages 625-640.
    35. Yup, Chan Lian, 1982. "Implications of rice policies for farmers: Selected South East Asian countries," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 7(4), pages 315-322, November.
    36. Kym Anderson & Bernard Hoekman & Anna Strutt, 2001. "Agriculture and the WTO: Next Steps," Review of International Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 9(2), pages 192-214, May.
    37. Reardon, Thomas & Echeverria, Ruben & Berdegué, Julio & Minten, Bart & Liverpool-Tasie, Saweda & Tschirley, David & Zilberman, David, 2019. "Rapid transformation of food systems in developing regions: Highlighting the role of agricultural research & innovations," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 172(C), pages 47-59.
    38. Stephen A. Wood & Matthew R. Smith & Jessica Fanzo & Roseline Remans & Ruth S. DeFries, 2018. "Trade and the equitability of global food nutrient distribution," Nature Sustainability, Nature, vol. 1(1), pages 34-37, January.
    39. Guanghua Wan & Chen Wang & Xun Zhang, 2021. "The Poverty-Growth-Inequality Triangle: Asia 1960s to 2010s," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 153(3), pages 795-822, February.
    40. Pingali, Prabhu L. & Rosegrant, Mark W., 1995. "Agricultural commercialization and diversification: processes and policies," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 20(3), pages 171-185, June.
    41. Dinghuan Hu & Thomas Reardon & Scott Rozelle & Peter Timmer & Honglin Wang, 2004. "The Emergence of Supermarkets with Chinese Characteristics: Challenges and Opportunities for China's Agricultural Development," Development Policy Review, Overseas Development Institute, vol. 22, pages 557-586, September.
    42. Thomas Reardon & Lenis Saweda O. Liverpool-Tasie & Bart Minten, 2021. "Quiet Revolution by SMEs in the midstream of value chains in developing regions: wholesale markets, wholesalers, logistics, and processing," Food Security: The Science, Sociology and Economics of Food Production and Access to Food, Springer;The International Society for Plant Pathology, vol. 13(6), pages 1577-1594, December.
    43. Peter Timmer, C., 1988. "The agricultural transformation," Handbook of Development Economics, in: Hollis Chenery & T.N. Srinivasan (ed.), Handbook of Development Economics, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 8, pages 275-331, Elsevier.
    44. Mathew Abraham & Prabhu Pingali, 2021. "Shortage of pulses in India: understanding how markets incentivize supply response," Journal of Agribusiness in Developing and Emerging Economies, Emerald Group Publishing Limited, vol. 11(4), pages 411-434, February.
    45. Reardon, Thomas & Gulati, Ashok, 2008. "The supermarket revolution in developing countries: Policies for "competitiveness with inclusiveness"," Policy briefs 2, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
    46. Hudson, Heather E. & Leclair, Mark & Pelletier, Bernard & Sullivan, Bartholomew, 2017. "Using radio and interactive ICTs to improve food security among smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa," Telecommunications Policy, Elsevier, vol. 41(7), pages 670-684.
    47. Bill Pritchard & C. P. Gracy & Michelle Godwin, 2010. "The Impacts of Supermarket Procurement on Farming Communities in India: Evidence from Rural Karnataka," Development Policy Review, Overseas Development Institute, vol. 28(4), pages 435-456, July.
    48. Barry M. Popkin, 2019. "Rural areas drive increases in global obesity," Nature, Nature, vol. 569(7755), pages 200-201, May.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    Most related items

    These are the items that most often cite the same works as this one and are cited by the same works as this one.
    1. Thomas Reardon & David Zilberman, 2022. "Symbiotic, Resilient, and Rapidly Transforming Food Supply Chains in LMICs: Supermarket and E-commerce Revolutions Helped by Wholesale and Logistics Co-pivoting," NBER Chapters, in: Risks in Agricultural Supply Chains, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Aiyar, Anaka & Rahman, Andaleeb & Pingali, Prabhu, 2021. "India’s rural transformation and rising obesity burden," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 138(C).
    3. Abraham, Mathew & Verteramo Chiu, Leslie & Joshi, Ekta & Ali Ilahi, Muhammad & Pingali, Prabhu, 2022. "Aggregation models and small farm commercialization – A scoping review of the global literature," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 110(C).
    4. Mottaleb, Khondoker A. & Mishra, Ashok K., 2020. "Income, Urbanization, and Consumption of Processed Foods: Implications for Nutrition and Health Policies for India," 2020 Annual Meeting, July 26-28, Kansas City, Missouri 304206, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
    5. Tomich, Thomas P. & Lidder, Preetmoninder & Coley, Mariah & Gollin, Douglas & Meinzen-Dick, Ruth & Webb, Patrick & Carberry, Peter, 2019. "Food and agricultural innovation pathways for prosperity," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 172(C), pages 1-15.
    6. Aslihan Arslan, Romina Cavatassi, Marup Hossain, 2022. "Research Series 69: Structural and rural transformation and food systems: a quantitative synthesis for LMICs," IFAD Research Series 320720, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
    7. Aslihan Arslan & Romina Cavatassi & Marup Hossain, 2022. "Food systems and structural and rural transformation: a quantitative synthesis for low and middle-income countries," Food Security: The Science, Sociology and Economics of Food Production and Access to Food, Springer;The International Society for Plant Pathology, vol. 14(1), pages 293-320, February.
    8. Neda Trifković, 2014. "Governance Strategies and Welfare Effects: Vertical Integration and Contracts in the Catfish Sector in Vietnam," Journal of Development Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 50(7), pages 949-961, July.
    9. Thottappilly, Anna, 2021. "Identifying the Income Effect on Nutrition for Agricultural Households: Separability of Production and Consumption," 2021 Conference, August 17-31, 2021, Virtual 315335, International Association of Agricultural Economists.
    10. Bartłomiej Bajan & Natalia Genstwa & Luboš Smutka, 2021. "The similarity of food consumption patterns in selected EU countries combined with the similarity of food production and imports," Agricultural Economics, Czech Academy of Agricultural Sciences, vol. 67(8), pages 316-326.
    11. Aiyar, Anaka & Dhingra, Sunaina & Pingali, Prabhu, 2021. "Transitioning to an obese India: Demographic and structural determinants of the rapid rise in overweight incidence," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 43(C).
    12. Nuhu, Ahmed Salim & Liverpool-Tasie, Lenis Saweda O. & Awokuse, Titus & Kabwe, Stephen, 2021. "Do benefits of expanded midstream activities in crop value chains accrue to smallholder farmers? Evidence from Zambia," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 143(C).
    13. Stamoulis, Kostas G. & Pingali, Prabhu L. & Reardon, Thomas, 2006. "Impacts of Agrifood Market Transformation during Globalization on the Poor's Rural Nonfarm Employment: Lessons for Rural Business Development Programs," 2006 Annual Meeting, August 12-18, 2006, Queensland, Australia 25556, International Association of Agricultural Economists.
    14. Cooper, G.S. & Shankar, B. & Rich, K.M. & Ratna, N.N. & Alam, M.J. & Singh, N. & Kadiyala, S., 2021. "Can fruit and vegetable aggregation systems better balance improved producer livelihoods with more equitable distribution?," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 148(C).
    15. Kok, Kristiaan P.W. & Klerkx, Laurens, 2023. "Addressing the politics of mission-oriented agricultural innovation systems," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 211(C).
    16. Urfels, Anton & Mausch, Kai & Harris, Dave & McDonald, Andrew J. & Kishore, Avinash & Balwinder-Singh, & van Halsema, Gerardo & Struik, Paul C. & Craufurd, Peter & Foster, Timothy & Singh, Vartika & K, 2023. "Farm size limits agriculture's poverty reduction potential in Eastern India even with irrigation-led intensification," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 207(C).
    17. Robert Finger, 2023. "Digital innovations for sustainable and resilient agricultural systems," European Review of Agricultural Economics, Oxford University Press and the European Agricultural and Applied Economics Publications Foundation, vol. 50(4), pages 1277-1309.
    18. Rachel A. Bahn & Abed Al Kareem Yehya & Rami Zurayk, 2021. "Digitalization for Sustainable Agri-Food Systems: Potential, Status, and Risks for the MENA Region," Sustainability, MDPI, vol. 13(6), pages 1-24, March.
    19. Montalbano, P. & Pietrelli, R. & Salvatici, L., 2018. "Participation in the market chain and food security: The case of the Ugandan maize farmers," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 76(C), pages 81-98.
    20. Nuthalapati, Chandra S.R. & Sutradhar, Rajib & Reardon, Thomas & Qaim, Matin, 2020. "Supermarket procurement and farmgate prices in India," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 134(C).

    More about this item


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:bla:agecon:v:53:y:2022:i:6:p:895-910. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a bibliographic reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: Wiley-Blackwell Digital Licensing or Christopher F. Baum (email available below). General contact details of provider: .

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service. RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.