Small-scale family farmers in South-East Asia face big challenges. They have to increase yields to produce more for the family and society. But in so doing, they must provide safe and nutritious food, increase their incomes, adapt to the changing climate, protect their ecosystem and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, all at the same time.

Our organization, the Asian Farmers Association for Sustainable Rural Development, has a response to these challenges: sustainable, agro-ecological and inclusive approaches to agriculture and agro-based enterprises.

That is why this year’s World Economic Forum on East Asia, which will feature the launch of the Grow Asia initiative, is particularly important for us. Grow Asia is a partnership of stakeholders across the agricultural value chain, including government, domestic , regional and multinational companies, multilateral and civil society organizations, farmers, consumers and entrepreneurs.

The main purpose of the partnership is to work together across the agriculture value chain to enable the development of environmentally sustainable and inclusive agriculture growth in South-East Asia, with a specific focus on smallholders. The partnership targets to reach – by 2020 – 10 million smallholder farmers in the region, improving their productivity, profitability and environmental sustainability by at least 20%.

EA15_Estrella Penunia

Grow Asia is exciting because it brings together a mix of new partners, many of whom have not worked with each other before. There will be much room for sharing, learning and innovation. As with any other partnership, Grow Asia is also challenging because there can be a diversity of views, perspectives and ways of doing. Thus we think it is important that Grow Asia establishes some clear parameters of what “sustainable” and “inclusive” growth means.

For the Asian Farmers Association, an alliance of national farmer organizations with members and partners in seven ASEAN countries (Philippines, Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam), sustainable and inclusive growth means:

  • Production technologies that improve and enhance the soil’s health, promote biodiversity, reduce wastage and promote nutrient recycling, promote diversification and integration, build on local knowledge and wisdom, and allow farmers to continuously innovate
  • Marketing and distribution systems that are economically rewarding
  • Adequate access to finance, markets and information
  • Increased participation in the value chain; for example, in processing our products
  • Significant involvement in the decision-making processes of the partnership

The Grow Asia partnership should also recognize farmers as not only beneficiaries and producers but also as equal partners, with significant involvement in the decision-making process. Farmers are being organized into geographical and commodity lines at local, national and regional levels both for lobbying and economic activities, and their robust involvement in Grow Asia for sustainable and inclusive growth might just make a big difference.

Author: Estrella Penunia, Secretary-General, Asian Farmers Association for Sustainable Rural Development, Philippines

Image: A farmer carries rice seedlings at a paddy field on the outskirts of Phnom Penh July 11, 2013. REUTERS/Samrang Pring