Partnering for a New Vision for Agriculture
Food security for a country starts with the farmer, who produces the food. In South-East Asia, the majority of farming is undertaken by smallholder farmers – who often lack access to credit, training and markets for their produce. As a result, farmers productivity often falls short of what it could be. “The potential for smallholder-led agriculture is huge,” emphasized Rusman Heriawan, Vice-Minister of Agriculture of Indonesia.
Government, the private sector and other stakeholders can play important roles in strengthening smallholder farmer productivity. “With the right business models, we can empower smallholder farmers, increasing both their yields and their income,” said Franky Oesman Widjaja, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Sinar Mas Agribusiness & Food, Indonesia, “however, these models need to be commercially viable.” Recognizing the importance of a coordinated effort, Heriawan and Widjaja are leading the Partnership for Indonesia’s Sustainable Agriculture (PISAgro), engaging over 20 organizations and the government to improve specific value chains.
In Myanmar, the government has prioritized the agriculture sector for modernization and growth. Myanmar has extensive arable land and water resources, which offer great potential for agriculture. However, the sector is currently facing many challenges that will need to be addressed concurrently – strengthening infrastructure, markets, education and policies. Ohn Than, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation of Myanmar, noted that the country is establishing new policies and procedures to better manage land resources so that farmers will benefit.
Most important for Myanmar is to empower its farmers. They will be the ones to drive growth in this country. “We need to look at giving farmers economic, political and social power with cooperative solutions” said Estrella Penunia, Secretary-General, Asian Farmers’ Association for Sustainable Rural Development (AFA), Philippines. She noted that it is important for farmers to contribute to policy decisions affecting the sector.
Basic resources like land and credit are very important coupled with favourable policies to provide incentives for farmers. In Myanmar and throughout South-East Asia, it is also important to mobilize and incentivize young people to go into agriculture as a profession.
All panellists noted the need for greater investment in agriculture, both in Myanmar and throughout the region. Governments can plan an important role in enabling and catalysing investment, according to Rajeev Vaidya, President, Southeast Asia and ASEAN, Dupont. “Governments need to create coalitions and the right ecosystem to bring in investment,” he said, noting that the World Economic Forum’s New Vision for Agriculture and Grow Africa initiatives offer good models.
Overall, agriculture should be treated as a business and expanded through entrepreneurial and technology-based solutions. A thriving agriculture sector will help to change rural areas to become a more attractive place for the next generation to live. Step by step, they can become the main resource to boost productivity for the region.
Leaders concluded that all sectors must work in cooperation to achieve a shared vision for food security and sustainable agriculture.