LOS BAÑOS, Laguna, Philippines – The ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015 is expected to play a major role in defining Southeast Asia’s agricultural landscape, industry experts noted.
This assessment was highlighted in various conferences held in the Philippines in 2013 that focused on food security in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region.
In one assembly that had as its theme “Operation One ASEAN: Towards Food Security in 2020”, Gil C. Saguiguit Jr., director of the Los Banos-based Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization-Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEAMEO SEARCA) stressed that AEC 2015 is likely to result in more integrated regional market and harmonized production base of agricultural goods.
Saguiguit added that AEC 2015 “is expected to develop a meta-national concept in food supply chains, and result in a single trade block that can deal and negotiate with non-ASEAN exporters and importers.”
Time is the essence in this thrust as the demand for agricultural products vis-a-vis the rapid global population growth has been putting additional pressure on sustainable food production, he said.
Global food requirements by 2020, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN-FAO), will depend on the size and nature of the world population, which is expected to reach nine billion. Most of the population increase will occur in the developing world.
Urbanization is expected to continue at an accelerating pace wherein by the middle of the 21st century, about 70 percent of the wold population will be urban, and income levels will be much higher. Conversely, rural and agriculture-based population is expected to decline.
“To feed this shift in demographics, it is calculated that food production must increase by 70 percent,” Saguiguit said.
He noted that Southeast Asia’s population is projected to reach 800 million by 2050, from 604 million in 2011.
“The changing ASEAN landscape is now characterized by regional integration, notably the ASEAN Economic Community 2015; increasing population and urbanization; decreasing number of small farmers; dominance of smallholder agriculture; changing consumption patterns; declining performance of agriculture; and environmental degradation and climate change.”
“Food security and reducing poverty remain to be the most formidable challenges faced by the region,” he added.
During the conference, the participants, comprised of high-ranking officials of government research and development (R&D) institutions and state universities from Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Vietnam and the Philippines – discussed and submitted their county reports supportive of a “food-secure ASEAN region,” he added.
The conference was sponsored by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and SEARCA.
In another regional conference attended by key officials of research and academic institutions in nine Southeast Asian countries, the participants crafted an umbrella program and action plan on food security in the region.
As envisioned, the umbrella program will harness the expertise that reside in the region through the SEARCA-led Southeast Asian University Consortium for Graduate Education in Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC) and align their food security programs with the region’s development needs as well as the ASEAN Integrated Food Security Framework (AIFS)..
The conference, sponsored by the Food Security Center of the University of Hohenheim in Germany, SEARCA, and UC, acknowledged that there are many research institutions focusing on food security in Southeast Asia. However, they added, “these are more national in scope and scattered across the region, thus the need for a regional program that will mobilize collective efforts and resources needed to address common food security issues and relevant strategic thrusts of the AIFS .”
As early as 2009, the Southeast Asian countries had adopted the ASEAN Integrated Food Security Framework to provide scope and avenues for cooperation among member-states toward long-term food security and improvement of livelihood of farmers in the region.
Saguiguit said the “ASEAN and SEAMEO are currently discussing ways on how to effectively collaborate to address issues of common concern, especially in light of the Millennium Development Goals.”
SEAMEO, SEARCA’s mother organization, is an inter-government treaty body founded in 1965 or two years ahead of ASEAN, to promote cooperation among Southeast Asian nations in the fields of education, science, and culture. All the 11 SEAMEO countries, except Timor-Leste, are also members of ASEAN.
A subsequent activity dubbed the ‘Workshop-Meeting: Priority Agenda of the Umbrella Program on Food Security for Southeast Asia’ was convened to prioritize the collaborative activities and projects on food security earlier hammered out for implementation in the next five years by the SEARCA-led UC.
The conference was participated in by the SEARCA senior fellows and management committee, which is composed of internationally known research administrators, scientists, academics, and economists who provide advice and technical guidance in the conceptualization of programs and technical inputs in project development and management.
During the workshop, the fellows enhanced the agenda of the program by identifying other priority areas and cutting-edge thinking on food and nutrition security considering the changing ASEAN and global agricultural landscape.
Summing up, the conferences concurred that the guiding principle of the high-level assemblies on food security was based on the declaration of the World Food Summit in 1996, which stipulated that “food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”