Friday, September 4, 2015

Food security a top priority for ASEAN ministers and senior officials

"It is high time for ASEAN member countries, which are in the largest rice-growing regions of the world to support the scientific research necessary for the sustainability of their rice sectors," said Bruce Tolentino, deputy director general for communication and partnerships of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), on ensuring food security and strengthening cooperation in agriculture across the region.

Sixteen ministers are scheduled to visit IRRI on 12 September as part of the 37th meeting of the ASEAN Ministers on Agriculture and Forestry (AMAF), in addition to the 15th AMAF Plus Three Meetings with China, Japan, and South Korea hosted by the Philippines this year.

"The crucial role that IRRI fulfills is providing the scientific foundation, technical support, and capacity-building to each of the ASEAN member-countries in pursuing their own national rice and food security programs," Tolentino said.

Each ASEAN member-nation has its own strategy and approach for meeting targets in this area.

Some Southeast Asian countries, such as Vietnam or Thailand, export rice, while the Philippines or Indonesia, among others, are rice importers.

Myanmar is on its way to regaining its agricultural competitiveness. In the 1950s Myanmar led the ASEAN countries in rice exports.

Brunei and Singapore, on the other hand, do import rice, and only the best quality rice. Moreover, Singapore is making investments to become the ASEAN center for biotechnology.

"So, each of these countries has differing approaches to achieving their food security goals. But all of these countries are bound together because there is a common ASEAN-wide framework for food security," Tolentino explained.

That framework, according to him, which also includes a strategic action plan on food security, does not simply focus on strengthening the national capacity of each of the ASEAN member countries to produce any agricultural commodity, but also facilitation of trade.

The strategic action plan was conceptualized as part of the ASEAN member states’ need for a long-term agricultural development plan that focuses on sustainable food production and trade, especially in the context of problems brought about by the food price crisis in 2007–2008.

The ASEAN Integrated Food Security Framework, along with the Strategic Plan of Action on Food Security in the ASEAN Region, enables sharing of any agricultural commodity. A close inspection of various countries reveals variation in natural resources for rice production. This is also the case for other crops and agricultural commodities.

"In effect, there will be a country agenda and there will be a regional agenda, tied together by trade. ASEAN countries could look at exporting high-quality rice to, say, Europe, for example. And Africa is a major growth area because of its rising demand for rice. All these topics, including IRRI’s support to the Philippine Department of Agriculture’s Food Staples Sufficiency Program will be part of the discussions during the ASEAN event next week," he noted.

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