In the process of transforming food systems, smallholder farmers need access to appropriate, affordable, profit-enhancing technologies and crop systems that are sustainable and do not cause ecological degradation or social conditions.
The Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) and Singapore-based CropLife Asia (CLA) thus convened a virtual independent dialogue on "Transforming Pathways: Working with Farmers in the Agri-food Systems" in the lead up to the landmark United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) in September 2021.
The dialogue discussed using digital technologies in producing safe and nutritious food for all and developing policies that promote an enabling environment for nature-positive production. It also sought to foster partnerships to build resilience to vulnerabilities, shocks, and stresses.
"There is a need to transform agricultural systems for long-term sustainability. In this process, farmers, the people who produce our food, must have an active role… with progressive perspectives on farming as a business operating in a modern agriculture ecology," said Dr. Glenn B. Gregorio, SEARCA Director and UN Food Systems Champion.
He added that the enabling environment to support the needed change for smallholder farmers should come directly from the farmers themselves. He said, "Let us understand where our farmers are in terms of policy, technology, and industry development and of course, their integrated phases to have more action points and effective strategies in programs that benefit them the most."
With a view to enhance farmers' collaboration with academe, industry, and government (AIG) towards transformed food systems, more than 30 farmer-leaders from Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam participated in the three-hour dialogue with representatives from AIG.
The dialogue gathered insights on the influencing conditions that should be in place to foster change in the farming sector from the farmers. In particular, they discussed policy, which concerns various government institutions; technology, a concern for research and development institutions and the academe; and resilience, which concerns all sectors but is dependent on a sound collaboration with industry players.
Emerging key recommendations and action points centered on the need for multi-sectoral support for interventions to improve market access; train farmers on new technologies, especially ageing farmers; provide crop diversification and insurance programs; reduce economic risks of farming through good agricultural practices; present research results in a form that can be understood by farmers; and use digital technology such as weather forecasting equipment to protect crops from natural calamities.
Dr. Siang Hee Tan, CLA Executive Director, said the dialogue jointly convened by SEARCA and CLA helps in raising the voice of our farmers at a critical time for Asia and the world. He affirmed that "we look forward to continuing our work together to ensure that our farmers are enabled and empowered to meet the challenges of a growing world."