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Searca to help farmers compete in Asean

MANILA, Philippines – 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 showed that Philippines intra-ASEAN exports amounted to $8.54 billion as of the end of the first half of the year.  The amount accounted for  only 14.6 percent of intra-ASEAN exports. 

Intra-ASEAN imports, on the other hand, stood at $17.063 billion, representing 24.3 percent of the total.

The Philippines had a share of 19.9 percent or $25.6 billion in intra-ASEAN trade in the same period.  Those that enjoyed higher export from intra-ASEAN trade were Lao 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).

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“The effort to integrate smallholder farmers in food production is key to food security in Southeast Asia,” said SEARCA director Gil 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 last Oct.7-8 a workshop to brainstorm on this project called “Agricultural Transformation and Market Integration in the ASEAN Region: Responding to Food Security and Inclusiveness Concerns.”

The project is part of Searca’s mandate  to strengthen capabilities of institutions toward inclusive and sustainable agricultural and rural development 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 drafting  of workplans at regional and national levels that will ensure small farmers and entrepreneurs are integrated into a bigger “agrifood value chain.”

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,”Bresciani said.

Pramod Kumar Joshi, director of IFPRI-South Asia, proposed 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, Joshi said.

Bessie Burgos, Searca program head for research and development, said Searca would soon create regional and national project steering committees to implement the workplans.

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, and the role of farmer cooperatives and family farms, learning from informal institutions; and barriers to trade.    

 

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