Studies: SEA's agriculture sector grapples with challenges

Studies on challenges to agriculture in Southeast Asia include one that analyzes the current concerns surrounding a potential rice crisis due to attacks on the infrastructure of Ukraine's food export system and the onset of a severe El Niño in Asian rice-producing regions.

The paper, titled "Back in the Soup: Now What?" by food security expert and Harvard University professor emeritus C. Peter Timmer examines the global rice market's outlook as of early September 2023.

Timmer's paper is among the studies published in the December 2023 edition of the Asian Journal of Agriculture and Development (AJAD).

AJAD is an internationally refereed journal published by the Philippine government-hosted, Los Baños-based Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA).

According to SEARCA Director Glenn Gregorio, the combined optimism of the authors "offers a glimpse of hope for the ongoing role of the region as a significant global producer and exporter."

Highlighting the possible repercussions of a spike in rice prices leading to widespread hunger through extensive hoarding, Timmer recommends that governments stabilize expectations to avert a rice crisis by maintaining a "reasonable interaction with market players," SEARCA said.

Taking a historical perspective, he examines past rice crises and how different states addressed them.

Timmer emphasizes that "the focus should be on the impact of higher rice prices on the food security of the poor, rather than aggregate inflation."

The paper by Jordan Calura and co-authors, titled "A Soil Analysis Approach to Assessing Potential Loss of Productive Lands Under Agricultural Land Conversion," assesses the productivity of agricultural lands in Pura, Tarlac, Philippines, predisposed to agricultural land conversion.

Soil surveys and composite sampling indicate marginal suitability for rice and other crops, but with appropriate soil management, the land can be highly suitable for crop production.

The authors argue that land in Pura is productive and can benefit both agricultural production and land conversion.

For his part, Colorado State University professor emeritus Robert Zimdahl commentary, titled "Institutionalizing Agricultural Ethics," it is argued that the agricultural science curriculum lacks consideration of the ethical dilemmas of agriculture on society.

Zimdahl suggests that agriculture—being a fundamental human activity—requires a defined moral foundation.

He warns that ignoring these ethical dilemmas may lead to justifications for technology and production practices being ignored, increased societal unrest, pressure for political action due to public dissatisfaction, and the continued concentration of food production in the hands of agribusiness companies, leading to the gradual disappearance of small farms, farmers, and rural communities.

Meanwhile, in their paper titled "Digital Technology Adoption and Potential in Southeast Asian Agriculture," Jose Ma Luis Montesclaros and Paul Teng of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore gave an affirmative response to the question of whether digital technologies can play a more significant role in addressing the ongoing challenges faced by the region's agriculture sector on food security, income, trade, and employment.

The authors propose a common framework for understanding the emerging digital technology in agriculture, offering insights into its adoption status in the region, key challenges, and policy opportunities for scaling up.

They identify shared challenges across the region, stemming from "climate change, degradation of land and freshwater resources, pests and diseases, declining crop productivity, high input costs, decreasing rural labor force, and aging farmers,"that need innovative solutions.

Examining the role of youth in farming, Kringle Marie Mercado and Henny Osbahr, in their paper "Feeding the Future: Knowledge and Perceptions of the Filipino Youth Toward Agriculture," explore the youth's inclination to enroll in agricultural degree programs.

According to Mercado and Osbahr, the youth play a crucial role in sustaining and developing a sustainable, resilient, and inclusive agriculture industry.

Their case study in General Santos City in Mindanao reveals that while the youth are exposed to agricultural information, it has not translated into practical knowledge, with limited awareness of agricultural professions.

They suggest intervention programs starting early in the youth curriculum, along with social initiatives emphasizing in capacity building, to cultivate interest in the industry and encourage engagement in its professions.