SEARCA tapped to craft ASEAN guidelines on use of digital tech in food, agri sector

The Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) has been tapped by the Research Institute for Asean and East Asia (ERIA) to develop the Asean Guidelines for the Utilization of Digital Technologies for Asean Food and Agricultural Sector, its news release said.

SEARCA is expected to complete the guidelines in June 2021.

The development of the guidelines is part of the project “Enhancing Food Supply Chain Resilience and Food Security in Asean with Utilization of Digital Technologies” of ERIA with the Asean Secretariat.

SEARCA Director Dr. Glenn B. Gregorio said the “digital technologies and innovations are evident to support the Asean Economic Community (AEC) in transforming to a more resilient and sustainable agriculture and food system, [but] the varying capacities among the Asean Member States (AMS) create a divide in the digital ecosystem.”

“The guidelines on digital technology use will provide policy recommendations to the AMS for more informed decision-making, as they are also expected to shape the digital transformation of agriculture in the region,” Gregorio said.

“More specifically, the guidelines will outline conditions and actions needed for the inclusive and sustainable use of digital technologies for agriculture and food system improvements, including interventions to facilitate digital technology uptake in the agriculture and food sector,” explained Dr. Pedcris M. Orencio, SEARCA Program Head for Research and Thought Leadership.

Orencio said that “the Asean guidelines are intended to facilitate digital inclusion on the use of innovative technologies that would help farming families in the AMS to deal with agriculture and food production challenges sustainably.”

“These development interventions are also indispensable in assessing the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic that currently affect the Asean food and agriculture sector,” he added.

SEARCA has been holding knowledge sharing workshops with AMS to look further into its experiences and discuss their inputs and gather suggestions for the development of a set of guidelines to equip the Asean region with recommendations and implementation considerations for making informed decisions that will shape the digital transformation of agriculture in the region.

The latest virtual workshop in the series was co-organized by SEARCA, ERIA and the Asean Secretariat, which featured experts who shared their experiences on the digitalization in the Asean agri-food sector and their various initiatives on smart agriculture.

Dr. Paul S. Teng of Nanyang Technological University of Singapore and a SEARCA Senior Fellow discussed the challenges of agricultural digitalization in AMS, including the uncertainty in business viability and scalability, limited freedom for farmers to operate with data across multiple data service providers due to prohibitive costs, and the gap in digital agriculture services among AMS.

Meanwhile, Dr. Masao Matsumoto of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries of Japan highlighted his country’s strategies to promote smart agriculture, including demonstrations and dissemination, support services to farmers, enabling environment, extension services, and overseas promotions.

Dr. Nerlita M. Manalili, SEARCA technical consultant, presented the conclusions of the survey on adopting digital technologies and the draft guidelines.

The Asean sectoral working groups represented in the workshop were agriculture and research, crops, fisheries and livestock.

Delegates from Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam from the four Asean sectoral working groups and representatives from Grow Asia and the International Rice Research Institute attended the workshop.

Gregorio said SEARCA is revising the draft guidelines based on the recommendations from the AMS, results of other project components and the outcomes of the two knowledge-sharing workshops.

There are two other components of the ERIA project with the Asean Secretariat, the gathered results of which will provide evidence-based policy insights on the formulation of the draft guidelines.

One component, led by the International Food Policy Research Institute, will provide macro data analysis on the estimation of the overall impact of Covid-19 on agricultural production and food value chain resilience in the Asean region.

The second is two-pronged with the University of Tokyo, University of Wisconsin and the University of Technology, Wein undertaking technical needs assessment tasks, while NTU leads the analysis of new trends and best practices models for integration of digital technologies, and enabling policy environment for agriculture, trade and information and communication technologies.