Small Filipino food producers in rural areas will be ushered into market integration in a program of the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) that helps them take advantage of ”borderless trade” in Asean.
While certain Asean (Association of South East Asian Nations) countries such as Singapore and Thailand have been taking advantage of the more liberalized Asean free trade, Philippines’s poorer agricultural producers still need to be assisted into taking advantage of trade tariff eliminations.
The Asean Merchandise Trade Statistics Database indicated that as of June 2016, Philippines intra-Asean exports stood at $8.536 billion, accounting for only 14.6 percent of all intra-Asean exports. However, its intra-Asean imports reached $17.063 billion for the six-month period, comprising 24.3 percent of total intra-Asean imports.
Those that enjoyed higher exports than imports from intra-Asean trade were Laos, 71.2 percent; Malaysia, 28.1 percent; Myanmar, 37.5 percent; Singapore, 32.3 percent; and Thailand, 28.9 percent.
The project, which will be co-implemented by International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), will also help small-scale food producers in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Vietnam. It will be funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
“The effort to integrate smallholder farmers in food production is key to food security in Southeast Asia,” said SEARCA Director Dr. Gil C. Saguiguit, Jr.
“Smallholder farms and small-scale entrepreneurs can be assisted to maximize opportunities of borderless trade and achieve sustainable and inclusive growth through policies that ensure competitive advantage of ASEAN member states.”
SEARCA, IFPRI, and IFAD held a workshop called “Agricultural Transformation and Market Integration in the Asean Region: Responding to Food Security and Inclusiveness Concerns” on October 7 and 8 to discuss the project
50 international experts attended the workshop at SEARCA’s Los Banos, Laguna headquarters. Multi-sectoral representatives came from Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Vietnam, China, India, and the US.
The project is part of SEARCA’s mandate to strengthen capabilities of institutions toward inclusive and sustainable agricultural and rural development (ISARD) in Southeast Asia. This is accomplished through its work on graduate education in agriculture, research and development, and knowledge management.
The workshop presented an inventory of initiatives of Asean countries in addressing food security and “inclusiveness,” which ensures that smaller farmers and entrepreneurs are able to raise their production, income, and trade with larger economic players.
The 50 experts have started contributing to the drafting of workplans at regional and national levels that will ensure small farmers and entrepreneurs are integrated into a bigger “agrifood value chain.”
Dr. Fabrizio Bresciani, Regional Economist at IFAD-Asia and the Pacific Region, said Asean members states should start thinking about the implications for rural wages in the competitiveness of the smallholder sector. “Asean countries should take advantage of current conditions with help from IFAD. This project should strengthen linkages among various partners,” said Bresciani.
Some action points proposed under the program by Dr. Pramod Kumar Joshi, Director of IFPRI-South Asia included integrating families with tiny landholdings into the global/regional agricultural food systems, and including climate change, food waste, food safety, and diet imbalance into the food security perspective.
By integration of operation of small farmers and entrepreneurs, small players are able to achieve economies of scale, access to market, and farm diversification, said Joshi.
Dr. Bessie M. Burgos, SEARCA Program Head for Research and Development, said SEARCA will immediately review the workshop proceedings and will soon create regional and national project steering committees to implement the workplans.
The workshop proper was divided into six sessions, with the last two sessions devoted to developing draft workplans at regional and national levels. There were 17 eminent persons and luminaries in their fields who served as resource speakers discussing global and regional perspectives on structural transformation; agriculture and food security; national perspective on agricultural transformation and market integration; recent and ongoing initiatives within Asean on food security and inclusiveness; and the role of the private sector in agricultural trade and market integration.
The two-day workshop noted the importance of the agricultural sector in reducing poverty in the Asean despite the declining share of agriculture in GDP.
The workshop also highlighted the importance of tapping other sources of agricultural productivity such as environmental services; managing genetic and indigenous resources through greening value chains; the role of farmer cooperatives and family farms, learning from informal institutions; and barriers to trade.