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Opinion

Taking the first steps towards an Asean Food Security Alliance

GO NEGOSYO PILIPINAS ANGAT LAHAT! - Joey Concepcion - The Philippine Star

In the face of climate change and the realization of how fragile our global food supply chains are, I think it is high time we took the first steps to ensure food security not just for our country but also for our neighbors in the ASEAN.

No doubt the agriculture sector is already a challenge. Some of the ASEAN countries are doing well in one crop, but have challenges in others; this is true for all our neighbors. That is why as I leave today for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, I have high hopes for the formation of what I foresee as an ASEAN Food Security Alliance.

Coming with me are the leaders of some of the Philippines’ largest agriculture companies, and waiting for us in Malaysia are their counterparts. This is a landmark event because the meeting is a direct outcome of our efforts to forge partnerships between the agriculture companies of the ASEAN member-states. I am particularly proud because this project can trace its beginnings to the Go Negosyo program KALAP, or Kapatid Angat Lahat Program.

We launched KALAP more than a year ago. The intent was to leverage private sector’s expertise and resources to help small farmers become more productive. What we’ve learned is that it is possible to scale up KALAP to benefit the entire region. What if we could harness the resources of the region’s private sector to cooperate in our agricultural commodities? As we fully realize the benefits of economic integration, it makes perfect sense that our agricultural industries are in sync and in cooperation with each other.

Imagine if we were to reach such a level of agricultural productivity that we can trade with each other and still provide for our respective populations? This will benefit not just the agriculture industries of the ASEAN countries but also put us on a path toward developing cooperative relationships within the public and private sectors to ensure food security for the entire region – an ASEAN Food Security Alliance, if you will. We will learn from each other and facilitate market linkages to be a more productive, food-producing, self-reliant region. Starting with Malaysia, we intend to build partnerships with the agri companies of the other ASEAN member-states.

Public-private partnerships are essential as we move toward regional economic integration and make our agriculture industries productive and competitive. We have already several of these big-brother models in the Philippines covering prime commodities like tobacco, coconut and rice, with large Philippine companies like Universal Leaf, Lionheart Farms and Yovel East successfully implementing their inclusive models in the communities where they operate.

Furthermore, we have already achieved it with the ASEAN Mentorship for Entrepreneurs Network, which is a scaled-up version of Kapatid Mentor ME, our program with the Department of Trade and Industry.

In both programs, we partner with what we call “big brothers” from the private sector to lend their resources, time and expertise to help mentor small and medium entrepreneurs. In KALAP, this has even extended to creating an environment in which farmers can break free from the cycle of living hand-to-mouth, using policy changes and cooperative systems to integrate into the value chain of the big companies.

The Malaysian private sector was the first on board with our regional initiative, thanks to a meeting of minds with ABAC Malaysia chairman Tan Sri Nazir Razak and B2B Connect Initiative (BCI) chairman and former Malaysia trade minister Dato’ Sri Mustapa Mohamed. We signed an MOU with them last July in Kuala Lumpur, with no less than the President as witness. In it, we identified the specific commodities where we can cooperate. We have a lot to learn from Malaysia’s success with palm oil and rubber, while the Philippines can share its technologies and best practices with crops like rice, coconut and banana.

Specifically, the MOU covered the joint conduct of studies and mentorship channels for potential agriculture, agriculture technology, food security, agripreneurship business models and value chain development. These are long-term and impactful exchanges that, I believe, will have lasting benefits for both our countries.

The MOU signing in July was followed by a visit led by Dato’ Sri Mustapa Mohamed in September and, after months of planning, we are finally here on the ground, fleshing out how we can put into action the ideals of this cooperation.

What we’ve learned is this: cooperative programs like KALAP work best when all aspects are covered. Our first step in KALAP was to find and invite agri companies with proven inclusive business models. Next, we looped in the government agencies which can help us create a more conducive environment to make sustainable, productive, profitable farming possible. And as we expand it to the regional level with the MOUs we’ve signed with our neighbors in the ASEAN, I have high hopes that we are looking at a potential win-win for everybody involved.

Former agriculture secretary Dr. William Dar, who is now a senior adviser for Go Negosyo, is lending his immense well of knowledge to help shape KALAP. I am also grateful to our Ambassador to Malaysia Ma. Angela Ponce, for lending her support.

With hope, this will be followed by similar trade visits to the rest of the countries that signed with us. I look forward to the potential collaborations we can form with the agriculture companies in Indonesia, Singapore, Cambodia, Myanmar, Brunei, Laos and Thailand.

It’s one small step at a time. What is important is we do it together, as one ASEAN.

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