Searca to help producers tap integrated Asean market

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The Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (Searca) is set to roll out a project that aims to help small food producers take advantage of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) market.

The project, which will be co-implemented by the International Food Policy Research Institute (Ifpri), will also help small-scale food producers in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Vietnam. It will be funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (Ifad).

“The effort to integrate smallholder farmers in food production is key to food security in Southeast Asia,” Searca Director Dr. Gil C. Saguiguit Jr. said in a statement.

“Smallholder farms and small-scale entrepreneurs can be assisted to maximize opportunities of borderless trade and achieve sustainable and inclusive growth through policies that ensure competitive advantage of Asean members,” Saguiguit added.

Searca, Ifpri and Ifad held last October 7 and 8 a workshop to brainstorm on this project called “Agricultural Transformation and Market Integration in the Asean Region: Responding to Food Security and Inclusiveness Concerns.”

A total of 50 international experts attended the workshop at Searca’s Los Baños, Laguna, headquarters. Multi-sectoral representatives came from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam, China, India and the United States.

Saguiguit said the project is part of Searca’s mandate to strengthen capabilities of institutions toward inclusive and sustainable agricultural and rural development in Southeast Asia. This is accomplished through its work on graduate education in agriculture, research and development, and knowledge management.

The workshop presented an inventory of initiatives of Asean countries in addressing food security and “inclusiveness,” which ensures that smaller farmers and entrepreneurs are able to raise their production, income and trade with larger economic players. The 50 experts have started contributing to drafting of workplans at regional and national levels that will ensure small farmers and entrepreneurs are integrated into a bigger “agrifood value chain.”

Dr. Fabrizio Bresciani, regional economist at Ifad-Asia and the Pacific Region, said Asean member-states should start thinking about the implications for rural wages in the competitiveness of the smallholder sector.

“Asean countries should take advantage of current conditions with help from Ifad. This project should strengthen linkages among various partners,” Bresciani said.

While certain Asean countries as Singapore and Thailand, have been taking advantage of the more liberalized free trade in the region, Searca said poorer agricultural producers in the Philippines still need to be assisted in taking advantage of trade tariff eliminations.

The Asean Merchandise Trade Statistics Database indicated that as of June 2016, Philippines intra-Asean exports was at $8.53 billion, or only 14.6 percent of intra-Asean exports. However, its intra-Asean imports were at $17.06 billion.

The Philippines had a share of 19.9 percent, or $25.6 billion, in intra-Asean trade in the same period. Those that enjoyed higher export from intra-Asean trade were Laos at 71.2 percent; Malaysia, 28.1 percent; Myanmar, 37.5 percent; Singapore, 32.3 percent; and Thailand, 28.9 percent.