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Asean should embrace Industry 4.0 in food production

Khmer Times Staff / Khmer Times Share:
Local production of organic vegetables and rice. KT/Mom Sophon

A gathering at the Grow Asia Forum 2018 in Vietnam saw over 170 senior leaders and decision-makers discuss the strategies for a modernised agricultural sector in the Asean region that would bring a profitable, sustainable and stronger supply chain for the benefit of small stakeholders.

The forum was co-hosted by the Grow Asia Partnership and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development of Vietnam, in collaboration with the World Economic Forum (WEF).

Around 500 million smallholder farmers produce 80 percent of the food consumed in the developing world. There is a pressing need for these farmers to be equipped with the appropriate technologies, knowledge and skills to meet the increasing global demand for food.
“We hold enormous hope for digitisation to transform the way small stakeholder farmers learn, communicate, and trade with their agribusinesses peers,” said Grahame Dixie, executive director of Grow Asia.

“The past year has seen a real change in how our partners view digital technologies. At the Grow Asia Forum, we heard from large agribusinesses and startups alike, including Bayer, AgriMedia and Impact Terra. They discussed how they are delivering greater profitably and sustainability to the sector.”

Grow Asia is a multi-stakeholder partnership platform which promotes the cross-regional sharing of knowledge and innovative solutions to improve productivity, profitability and environmental sustainability of small-scale farmers.

Its five country-led partnerships now operate 37 value chain projects, which are increasing small farmers’ incomes by up to 80 percent.

Over 480 partners are now involved in the programme, including governments, companies, farmers’ associations, civil society, international organisations and research institutes, and the network is reaching over 690,000 smallholder farmers.

In Cambodia, based on a six-month consultation process with multiple stakeholders, five crops were identified as priorities for the government and of interest to off-takers: coconut, sugar, pepper, fruits and vegetables. These are considered to be beneficial to most from a multi¬-stakeholder value chain perspective.

The Cambodia Partnership for Sustainable Agriculture (CPSA) was formally launched in May 2016. Since then, work has been underway to develop value chain projects across the five focus crops at provincial, national and regional levels to identify opportunities for sustainable collaboration between partners.

These products were chosen as models to make Cambodian produce more competitive. The plan is also to find niche premium markets and financing whereby farmers would greatly benefit from training and knowledge transfer, while Cambodia could benefit from focusing on value-added processing for the crop nationally.

Olivier M Schwab, managing director and head of business engagement at the World Economic Forum, said there is a growing global interest in multi-stakeholder partnerships to instigate change.

“By embracing the positive changes being shaped by the Fourth Industrial Revolution and encouraging inclusivity in agriculture supply chains, the Grow Asia network is tackling the issue of environmental sustainability while modernising global food systems and improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in Asean,” Mr Schwab said.

In 2018, Grow Asia initiated its Digital Learning Series to act as a launch pad to encourage the testing, dissemination, and wide-spread uptake of digital tools.

Grow Asia is producing resources to help its partners adopt a digital mindset, including a Digital Credit Scoring Guide, and facilitating action through events such as a Hackathon where participants ideated digital solutions which could be applied on small palm oil farms.
The winner was formally announced at the Grow Asia Forum. Four major companies are now providing financing to test these ideas in the field.

Leaders at the Grow Asia Forum also explored the World Economic Forum’s innovation with a purpose report and emerging technological innovations that have the potential to drive rapid progress in food systems.

Chheang Vannarith, chairman of the Cambodian Institute for Strategic Studies, said economic growth must be coupled with technological knowledge for a modern economy to blossom.

Grow Asia, in collaboration with East West Seeds Group, operates in places where traditional practices still keep farmers from maximising the potential of their land and labour.

High technology and cutting edge innovations are exciting, but access to practical technologies such as mulching, drip irrigation and hybrid seeds remain very relevant and urgent for the tropical smallholder farmers.

WEF and Cambodian officials said that Industry 4.0 presents huge opportunities but also challenges for Cambodia. There are two sets of issues. First, how can Cambodia access these new technologies to enable the economy to overcome latencies in plant and machinery and second, how could Cambodia continue to ensure high levels of employment but also reposition itself away from labour-intensive production.

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