The ASEAN region, representing 10 economies in South-East Asia, has attracted a lot of attention recently. This attention is clearly justified given the very positive macroeconomic outlook: the combined GDP of ASEAN’s 10 economies is projected to nearly double by 2020.

A lot of that growth will be driven by an increase in consumption as an additional 120 million people join the middle and affluent classes in these countries ‒ half of them Indonesians. These strong fundamentals will strengthen ASEAN’s position as one of the world’s most dynamic regions.

However, today’s reality represents a combination of challenges that includes poverty, especially in remote areas, and an unresolved threat to food security. To ensure food security for all in the years to come, we will need to produce more food using fewer environmental resources while reinvigorating rural economies.

This is a formidable challenge, but together we are confident that we can tackle it. It will require a very high level of collaboration among all stakeholders in the agricultural value chain, including governments, companies, multilateral and civil-society organizations, farmers, consumers and entrepreneurs.

To tackle this challenge, we have formed the Grow Asia partnership. This partnership includes leading global companies from a broad variety of sectors as well as prominent civil society council members. Its main focus is to support scalable, market-based solutions for sustainable, inclusive economic growth through agriculture. We are aiming at measurable, positive impacts with a focus on smallholder farmers, who account for a large portion of the agricultural area in this region.

Our objectives are clear and they are bold: By 2020, we want to reach 10 million smallholder farmers in South-East Asia and enable them to increase their yield and profits by 20%, using 20% less water and emitting 20% less greenhouse gases per tonne of production.

As a partnership with a variety of resources and capabilities, we can help make these aspirations a reality. Here are six key steps that will help us reach these targets:

  1. Have a strong joint leadership ‒ bringing together public and private institutions to create breakthrough solutions.
  2. Build the capacity of farmers ‒ let’s explore what we can do to improve capabilities through effectively sharing best practices, for example, to improve yield or manage the environment better.
  3. Empower women farmers and entrepreneurs ‒ we should, with the help of partnering companies, set up social enterprises that are self-sustaining and lift the quality of life of these people and their communities.
  4. Disseminate knowledge and technology ‒ for example, mobile technologies can help provide access to relevant information such as weather data, fertilizing requirements or up-to-date pricing levels.
  5. Improve access to financial services ‒ let’s find ways to provide financing solutions that are cost effective for the farmers and technology enabled.
  6. Invest in processing and logistics ‒ we should identify innovative ways to share infrastructure or equipment in a meaningful way.

Another potential high-impact area relates to a more effective sharing of best practices across countries. For example, instead of each country improving the same crops, we should consider a more cooperative system within the region.

This will require hard work and getting our hands dirty. It requires going on site, engaging with farmers, and checking and re-checking to make sure that challenges are getting resolved. In the end, it is about making changes on the ground.

Author: Franky Oesman Widjaja, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Sinar Mas Agribusiness & Food, Indonesia

Image: A farmer holds a handful of rice stalks at a paddy field in Karawang, Indonesia’s West Java province June 13, 2013. REUTERS/Beawiharta