MANILA, Philippines - Asean member countries need to work together to produce more food for a population expected to reach 5.1 billion by 2050, agricultural economists said.
During the “Executive Forum on Food Security: Leaders in Asean Agriculture and Development” held last month, Dr. Paul S. Teng, SEARCA fellow and principal officer of the Singapore-based National Institute of Education (NIE), said agricultural production must increase to meet the demand of the growing Asian population.
Teng noted that a huge population poses a major threat to food security.
He said Asean member economies should negotiate better price deals among themselves with the goal of sharing equitable profit among farmers and producers, and getting a bigger role in the supply chain down to the distribution to consumers.
“Asean must approach food security as a region with better coordination and with a common position to become a price setter in the market, rather than just a price taker,” Teng said.
SEARCA director Gil C. Saguiguit, Jr. said apart from a rapid growth in population, food production capacity is constantly faced with a number of challenges which include worsening climatic conditions and a dwindling natural resource base that all negatively affect the region’s agriculture sector.
“These varied and persistent problems in the region, coupled with the changing Asean agricultural landscape, demands leaders and executives… to rise above the occasion and make appropriate multilateral decisions and actions,” Saguiguit said.
Teng stressed countries in the region must go beyond economic integration and harmonize their efforts on three major fronts: ensuring food availability, shying away from subsistence farming, and implementing a nurturing policy environment for food supply.
“We need to ask what needs to be improved in food production, processing, trade, distribution, and quality standards,” Teng pointed out.
For one, ensuring access to rice remains a hurdle in achieving food security.
Teng said Asean must ensure stable food commodities are available to its member economies while continuing exports to other regions.
According to statistics released by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the region is home to both major rice producers and exporters such as China, India, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam as well as major rice importers like the Philippines.
Malaysia outscored its Asean neighbors on food security, ranking 34th out of 109 countries surveyed in the Economic Intelligence Unit’s Global Food Security Index last May.
For her part, Regina Moench-Pfanner, director at the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), said ending hunger should also be tied to providing the population with access to quality nutrition.
“ASEAN is a food basket but there are a lot of hungry, undernourished people,” she noted.
Across the globe, farming communities have been hit by declining populations and a rising average age of farmers. In 1998, the average age of farmers in the US, Canada, South Korea, and Japan ranged from 50 to 60 years, which is significantly older than the average age of farmers three decades ago, which was between 36 and 51.
“Technology on its own is not enough. Farmers need both tools and a proper business model in using these tools to earn a decent livelihood and profit,” Teng explained.
Creating a policy environment that nurtures all the important phases of food supply chain will also help improve food security, he said.
From a business exports policy perspective, the future of Asia’s agribusiness sector looks bright but member-states must move from being merely a production base, Teng added.