Agriculture - - Important -

A ONE-DAY FO­RUM dis­cussed gaps and di­rec­tions to re­shape agri­cul­ture and de­vel­op­ment in South­east Asia and called for chang­ing and en­hanc­ing the pol­icy, im­ple­men­ta­tion, and pro­gram man­age­ment ap­proaches that re­dound to im­prov­ing the lot of the small­holder farm­ers who con­trib­ute 70 per­cent of the food pro­duced in the re­gion.

The South­east Asian Re­gional Cen­ter for Grad­u­ate Study and Re­search in Agri­cul­ture (SEARCA) gath­ered some 50 lead­ers and ex­perts to con­sult on “Re­shap­ing Agri­cul­ture and De­vel­op­ment in South­east Asia” on Au­gust 2 at its head­quar­ters in Los Baños, La­guna, along its em­pha­sis on cross-cul­tural, in­clu­sive, and sus­tain­able agri­cul­tural and ru­ral de­vel­op­ment. Knowl­edge part­ners in­cluded Grow Asia; the CGIAR Cli­mate Change, Agri­cul­ture, and Food Se­cu­rity Re­search Pro­gram (CCAFS), and the Na­tional Tai­wan Univer­sity.

Dr. Fer­nando C. Sanchez, Jr., Univer­sity of the Philip­pines Los Baños (UPLB) chan­cel­lor and SEARCA Gov­ern­ing Board chair, un­der­scored in his wel­come re­marks, the need for de­vel­op­ment or­ga­ni­za­tions to keep abreast of the chang­ing de­vel­op­ment land­scape of agri­cul­ture and de­vel­op­ment in South­east Asia and to con­tinue as­sert­ing their rel­e­vance in help­ing their var­i­ous stake­hold­ers, par­tic­u­larly small­holder farm­ers.

Sin­ga­porean ex­pert Dr. Paul P.S. Teng, managing director of the Na­tional In­sti­tute of Ed­u­ca­tion In­ter­na­tional Pte. Ltd. at the Nanyang Tech­no­log­i­cal Univer­sity (NTU), set the con­text of the fo­rum.

“You can­not trans­form un­less you un­der­stand where you stand at the mo­ment. At the end of the day, you should have a clear idea on how to trans­form or re­shape the cur­rent (agri­cul­tural) sit­u­a­tion and how to move for­ward,” he as­serted.

Teng also em­pha­sized the need for vivid as­sess­ment of the South­east Asian re­gion’s agri­cul­tural sit­u­a­tion across all lev­els— tak­ing mi­cro, meso, and macro per­spec­tives—and for dras­tic steps to re­shape the sce­nario at its roots to ad­dress the loom­ing rel­e­vant prob­lems of preva­lent mal­nu­tri­tion in ru­ral ar­eas and the emerg­ing over­nu­tri­tion in ur­ban set­tings, among other chang­ing de­mo­graph­ics and con­texts of agri­cul­ture and de­vel­op­ment in the re­gion.

Teng con­cur­rently serves as Se­nior Fel­low of the NTU Cen­tre for Non-tra­di­tional Se­cu­rity Stud­ies, Ad­junct Se­nior Fel­low of the S. Ra­jarat­nam School of In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies also at NTU, SEARCA Se­nior Fel­low, and Chair of the Board of Di­rec­tors of the In­ter­na­tional Ser­vice for the Ac­qui­si­tion of Agribiotech­nol­ogy Ap­pli­ca­tions (ISAAA).

Former So­cioe­co­nomic Plan­ning Sec­re­tary Dr. Cielito F. Habito gave the fo­rum over­view, ex­plain­ing that among the dom­i­nant concerns to­ward re­siliency, in­clu­sive­ness, and sus­tain­abil­ity in the re­gion’s agri­cul­ture and de­vel­op­ment, are cli­mate un­cer­tain­ties and wa­ter scarcity, the prom­ise of in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy, agro-in­dus­trial value chains and their in­te­gra­tion of small­hold­ers, and farm tourism and fam­ily farm­ing. Dr. Habito is Eco­nom­ics pro­fes­sor at the Ate­neo de Manila, chair of Brain Trust - Knowl­edge and Op­tions for Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Inc., and SEARCA Se­nior Fel­low.

In this con­text, the dis­cus­sion pro­gressed to how agri­cul­tural prob­lems are of­ten ad­dressed from and by the na­tional gov­ern­ment or re­gional or­ga­ni­za­tions, and the pri­macy of ini­tia­tives em­a­nat­ing from the lo­cal gov­ern­ment, small­holder farm­ers, and other sec­tors or groups closer to the ground.

The fo­rum also tack­led the po­ten­tial of IoT or the In­ter­net of Things, and ex­perts pointed out that tech­nol­ogy is not the so­lu­tion per se as it is only a tool—it is how stake­hold­ers use it—and de­vel­op­ing a health­ier at­ti­tude to­wards its adop­tion is the best way to wield the power of tech­nol­ogy in agri­cul­tural de­vel­op­ment.

Such mod­ern tech­nolo­gies can also em­power small-scale farm­ers to link to global agri­cul­tural value chains in terms of trade and mar­ket ac­cess, among other rel­e­vant sub-top­ics on value chain in­te­gra­tion.

An­other hot topic was how to at­tract the youth to agri­cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties and en­tice them to build en­ter­prises in the ru­ral ar­eas. The Pink Econ­omy, farm tourism, and tech­nolo­gies such as mo­bile apps to aid farm­ing ac­tiv­i­ties were high­lighted in this re­gard, see­ing that mil­len­ni­als are ad­ven­tur­ous travelers and live on con­nec­tiv­ity.

Lastly, lo­cal and re­gional in­te­gra­tion of de­vel­op­ment ini­tia­tives were also en­cour­aged in the fo­rum, such as cross-coun­try co­op­er­a­tion and strength­en­ing lo­cal-na­tional-in­ter­na­tional pro­grams that en­cour­age knowl­edge and re­source-shar­ing.

Tak­ing cen­ter­stage in the fo­rum were a to­tal of 24 ex­perts and spe­cial­ists, led by Dr. Doris Capis­trano, Se­nior Ad­vi­sor to the ASEAN-Swiss Part­ner­ship on So­cial Forestry and Cli­mate Change and a SEARCA Se­nior Fel­low, for the panel on managing cli­mate un­cer­tain­ties and wa­ter scarcity; Dr. Karen Eloisa T. Bar­roga, Act­ing Deputy Ex­ec­u­tive Director for De­vel­op­ment of the Philip­pine Rice Re­search In­sti­tute (PhilRice), on the prom­ise of in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy; Dr. Teng on agro-in­dus­trial value chains and in­te­gra­tion of small­hold­ers; To­mas A. Cabuenos, Jr., Se­nior Ad­vi­sor and Na­tional Project Man­ager of the De­vel­op­ment Part­ner­ship Project (AGRIDPP), Deutsche Ge­sellschaft für In­ter­na­tionale Zusam­me­nar­beit (GIZ) GmbH, Philip­pines, on farm tourism and fam­ily farm­ing; and Dr. Habito on ar­riv­ing at an in­te­grated agenda for agri­cul­ture and de­vel­op­ment in South­east Asia.

The high-level ex­pert pan­elists in the fo­rum in­cluded Gra­hame Dixie, Ex­ec­u­tive Director of Grow Asia; Dr. Mina T. Ga­bor, Founder and Pres­i­dent of the In­ter­na­tional School of Sus­tain­able Tourism and former Philip­pine Tourism sec­re­tary; Dr. Wei Fang, Pro­fes­sor of Bio-in­dus­trial Mecha­tron­ics En­gi­neer­ing at the Na­tional Tai­wan Univer­sity; Dr. Larry C.Y. Wong, Malaysian thought leader in agri­cul­tural eco­nom­ics and ad­viser to Myan­mar; Dr. Sudhir Ya­dav, Out­come Thought Leader on En­vi­ron­men­tal Sus­tain­abil­ity and Wa­ter Man­age­ment Sci­en­tist at the In­ter­na­tional Rice Re­search In­sti­tute; Dr. Maria Vic­to­ria O. Es­pal­don, Pro­fes­sor of En­vi­ron­men­tal Sci­ence and Man­age­ment at UPLB; Dr. Rolando T. Dy, Pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Asia and the Pa­cific; Dean Larry N. Di­gal of the UP Min­danao School of Man­age­ment; John Gar­rity, Se­nior Con­nec­tiv­ity Ad­vi­sor of the United States Agency for In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment (USAID); Dr. Bessie M. Bur­gos, Pro­gram Head for Re­search and De­vel­op­ment at SEARCA; Engr. Sa­muel M. Con­tr­eras, Chief Agri­cul­tur­ist and Soil Con­ser­va­tion Di­vi­sion Head at the Bureau of Soils and Wa­ter Man­age­ment of the Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture; Dr. Ner­lita M. Manalili, CEO of NEXUS Agribusi­ness So­lu­tions; Roger F. Bar­roga, PhilRice Man­ager of the Fu­tureRice Project; and Dr. Bui Tan Yen, Sci­ence Of­fi­cer of the CGIAR Re­search Pro­gram on Cli­mate Change, Agri­cul­ture, and Food Se­cu­rity based in Hanoi, Viet­nam.

Equally valu­able were the per­spec­tives as­serted as ex­perts in their own right rep­re­sent­ing mil­len­ni­als, farm­ers, and the pri­vate sec­tor and civil so­ci­ety, by Vi­cente A. Roxas, Director at the Roxas-Kalaw Foun­da­tion for the Erad­i­ca­tion of Poverty; farmer JonJon Sarmiento of the Sus­tain­able Agri­cul­ture Pro­gram Man­ager of the Pam­bansang Kilu­san ng mga Sama­hang Magsasaka (PAKISAMA); Gigi Pon­te­jos-Mor­ris, Farm School Director of the MoCA Fam­ily Farm RLearn­ing Cen­ter in Padre Gar­cia, Batan­gas; Sven Yeo, Co-Founder, Busi­ness De­vel­op­ment of Archisen Pte. Ltd. In Sin­ga­pore; and Tan Thi Shu, Founder and Director of Sapa O’Chau in North­ern Viet­nam.

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