New studies run down potentials of SE Asian agriculture amid reg'l and global pitfalls

  • By Monalinda Cadiz
  • 29 December 2023

Seven new studies including a thoughtful commentary released by the Asian Journal of Agriculture and Development in its December 2023 issue round up potentials of agriculture, notably in Southeast Asia. The authors' collective optimism, despite recognized perils in the current regional and global conditions affecting Southeast Asian agriculture, provides a glimpse of hope for the continuing role of the region as a major global producer and exporter.

Photo credit: Joel PolicarpioPhoto credit: Joel Policarpio

Renowned food security expert C. Peter Timmer in his paper "Back in the Soup: Now What?" presents the outlook for the world rice market as of early September 2023. The Harvard University emeritus built on his AJAD article published a year earlier on managing an impending world food crisis, post-pandemic. The answer he found then "was a series of steps designed to build confidence in the availability of supplies." His new paper analyzes the current concern on an impending rice crisis following "attacks on Ukrainian food export infrastructure and the emergence of a vigorous El Niño in Asian rice bowls." Accordingly, an impending "spike in rice prices will cause widespread hunger," Timmer states, commonly caused by immense hoarding. He suggests that governments stabilize expectations to prevent this, with a reasonable interface with market players. Timmer analyzes, with an in-depth historical perspective, past rice crises and how these were managed by various states. He emphasizes, nonetheless, that "the concern should be over the impact of higher rice prices on food security of the poor, not aggregate inflation."

In "Digital Technology Adoption and Potential in Southeast Asian Agriculture," Jose Ma Luis Montesclaros and Paul S. Teng Jose Ma Luis Montesclaros and Paul S. Teng of the Nanyang Technological University Singapore asked, "can digital technologies play a more prominent role in addressing the ongoing challenges faced by Southeast Asia's agriculture in serving as a key sector for food security, income, trade, and employment in the region?" Their findings give a positive answer. The authors propose a common framework to understand the nascent digital technology in agriculture, drawing insights on the state of adoption in the region, key challenges, and policy opportunities for scaling up. The challenges commonly experienced across the region that they found "requiring path-breaking solutions" arise from "climate change, degrading and declining land and freshwater resources, pests and diseases, declining crop productivity, high cost of inputs, declining rural labor force, and aging farmers."

"Feeding the Future: Knowledge and Perceptions of the Filipino Youth Toward Agriculture" by Kringle Marie P. Mercado and Henny Osbahr determines the Filipino youth's intention to enroll in agricultural degree programs. The authors "recognize the critical role the youth could play to sustain, develop, and build a sustainable, resilient, and inclusive agriculture industry." Their case study of General Santos City, Philippines, reveals that "while the youth report high exposure to agricultural information, these have not been translated into inherent know-how." They also have "limited knowledge or familiarity with agricultural professions" and "expressed reservations in considering if employment opportunities in the sector are profitable, if the society will hold them in high regard once they engage in the sector, and if they have the suitable skills and know-how to engage in the sector." The authors infer that "intervention programs, starting early in the curriculums of the youth, along with social programs that highlight capacity building, are necessary to pique their interest toward the industry and entice them to engage in its professions."

The study "Transition from Agriculture to Non-Agriculture Occupations in West Bengal, India: Causes and Way Forward" reveals that agriculture in West Bengal, a major state in India, is "nonviable as a primary source of occupation for most agricultural households." Their distress leads them to find jobs in the nonfarm sector, that is, outside of agriculture. However, the limited opportunity in the rural area leaves them clinging to agriculture, according to authors Apurba Kumar Chattopadhyay and Raj Kumar Kundu. The authors further found that farm size makes "agriculture viable and sustainable." The "average operational landholdings need to increase through reverse tenancy and/or cooperative farming and through creating gainful employment opportunities in the rural nonfarm sector," the authors add. "This will help farm-households to transition from agricultural to nonagricultural occupations," they conclude.

Results of the study "Economic and Profitability Analysis of Walnut Production in Kashmir Valley, India" by Fayaz Ahmad Lone and co-authors show that "walnut cultivation is highly labor intensive as it incurs 80 percent of total production costs." The cost-benefit ratio of 1:5.35 per hectare indicates better economic prospects for the walnut industry in Kashmir Valley. The study's statistical analyses indicate ample scope for expanding walnut cultivation in the area. The study calls for policy intervention to improve access to extension services, credit, and farmer training programs to boost walnut production in the region.

The paper "A Soil Analysis Approach to Assessing Potential Loss of Productive Lands Under Agricultural Land Conversion" assessed the "degree of productivity of the agricultural lands in Pura, Tarlac, Philippines, which are predisposed to agricultural land conversion." Jordan G. Calura and his co-authors conducted soil survey and composite soil sampling, which show that "the soil is only marginally suitable for producing rice and other crops, but they can be highly suitable for crop production with appropriate soil management." In addition, "the entire tract of land of Pura has an index rating that corresponds to soil suitable for planting several crops with expected good results," states the authors. "The results of the land suitability evaluation and soil productivity assessment further show that the land in the municipality of Pura is productive, and thus can benefit both agricultural production and agricultural land conversion," the authors add.

In his commentary "Institutionalizing Agricultural Ethics", Robert L. Zimdahl states that "the agricultural science curriculum lacks consideration and study of the effects of agriculture's ethical dilemmas on society." The Colorado State University professor emeritus further adds that "agriculture, the essential human activity and the most widespread human interaction with the environment, needs a defined moral foundation." He cautions that "if all elements of the agricultural enterprise do not begin to recognize and address agriculture's ethical dilemmas, three unwelcome outcomes may follow." Agriculture practitioners may find their justifications for their technology and production practices ignored; public unease and dissatisfaction with the known or perceived effects of agricultural technology and its adverse implications will result in increasing societal unrest and pressure for political action; and the increasing concentration of food production in the hands of agribusiness companies will continue. "Small farms, farmers, and rural communities will continue to gradually disappear," warns Zimdahl.

AJAD is an international refereed journal published by the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA). AJAD publishes articles resulting from empirical, policy-oriented, or institutional development studies, as well as articles of perspectives on agriculture and development, political economy of rural development, and trade issues.

Submissions are welcome all year-round through All the new and past papers published in AJAD are available from the same site for free, while print copies are also available through subscription.

The editorial board is headed by Dr. Cielito F. Habito, professor of economics at the Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines and director of the Ateneo Center for Economic Research and Development. He is also a former cabinet member of the Philippine government, having served as Socioeconomic Planning Secretary and Director General of the National Economic and Development Authority of the Philippines.