Key to long-term food security stakeholders, push sustainable farming
Neil Jerome C. Morales (The Philippine Star) - May 22, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Agriculture sector stakeholders, industry leaders and policy makers are pushing for efforts to hold farming in high regard as key to long-term food security.

The deployment of new technologies, promotion of sustainable farming, reduction of wastage and availability of credit are also essential in securing food supply worldwide, officials said yesterday.

“If Asia is food insecure, the world is food insecure,” Robert S. Zeigler, director-general of the Laguna-based International Rice Research Institute, said during the Grow Asia Agriculture Forum during the World Economic Forum (WEF) 2014.

However, Zeigler said farmers are not inclined to venture into more risks like trying out new technology as they are already subject to uncertainties in the economy, financial markets and weather.

The Philippine farm sector is not shielded from the problems like the inefficiency of supply chain, failure to encourage use of new technology and lack of government support.

“In the last 25 years, we have neglected agriculture,” said former Sen. Francis Pangilinan, Presidential assistant for food security and agricultural modernization.

“A new generation refuses to go into farming and that is truly a threat to food security,” he said.

“I believe that if you want to achieve food security, you first have to secure farmers.”

Farmers in the Philippines average at 57 years old with an educational attainment of just fourth grade. Average farm size is 1.5 hectares, allowing farmers to pocket only $50 of income a month, an indication of neglect and abandon to the agriculture sector, Pangilinan said.

Growth in the Philippines’ agriculture sector slowed in the first quarter given lingering effects of the destructive storms that hit the country last year.

The farm sector’s output grew 0.67 percent in the first three months of the year, slower than the revised growth rate of 3.11 percent in the same period last year, data from the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics showed.

“What we have to develop is a respect to farmers. Farmers are the people who are producing our food and they don’t get sufficient respect and acknowledgement for it,” said Tobias Marchand, head of Asia-Pacific for Bayer (South East Asia) Pte. Ltd.

“Give to our farming communities the self confidence and pride that farming is a good business to be in,” Marchand said.

For Pangilinan, demo farms are needed to persuade farmers to adopt new technologies and take on risks.

Peter Ter Kulve, president for ASEAN and Australasia of Unilever Asia Private Ltd., said farm productivity could be increased through increased investment in research and development while farmers should be linked to more markets through mobile technology as part of improving their income.

Another key factor is agriculture financing and insurance, Ter Kulve said.

Yolanda Kakabadse, president of World Wildlife Fund International, said food wastage should be reduced as 43 percent of food produced is wasted.

“We expect to develop the capacity for farmers through education, extension and public service,” said Ty Sokhun, Secretary of State of Cambodia’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

Pangilinan said governments should convince the private sector, given their ample resources, to invest and risk their funds in the agriculture sector.

The WEF on East Asia, hosted by the Philippines, brings together more than 600 participants from 30 countries. It also facilitates the discussion among 460 business leaders from more than 25 industry sectors. Three heads of state and over 69 public figures representing more than 20 countries are also attending the event.

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