SEARCA tapped to craft ASEAN guidelines on use of digital technologies in food and 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. 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.

Dr. Glenn B. Gregorio, SEARCA Director, said “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. However, the varying capacities among the ASEAN Member States (AMS) create a divide in the digital ecosystem.”

He said “the regional guidelines on digital technology use will provide policy recommendations to the AMS for more informed decision-making. They are also expected to shape the digital transformation of agriculture in the region.”

“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.

He added 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.”

SEARCA has been holding knowledge sharing workshops with AMS to look further into the experiences of AMS 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 co-organized by SEARCA, ERIA, and the ASEAN Secretariat 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 (NTU) 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 as well as 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 participated in the workshop. Representatives from Grow Asia and the International Rice Research Institute were also in attendance.

He said SEARCA is now 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.

The development of the ASEAN guidelines being carried out by SEARCA is just one of three components of the ERIA project with the ASEAN Secretariat.  One component, led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), 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 other component is two-pronged, with the University of Tokyo, University of Wisconsin, and the University of Technology, Wein undertaking technical needs assessment tasks, while Nanyang Technological University 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.

Dr. Orencio explained that SEARCA will gather the results of the two other components to provide evidence-based policy insights on the formulation of the draft guidelines.

He said SEARCA is expected to complete the draft ASEAN Guidelines for the Utilization of Digital Technologies for ASEAN Food and Agricultural Sector in June 2021.