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Visions of a sustainable food future

Dindo Campilan, Regional Director, Asia

“In the not-too-distant future, agriculture will become synonymous with innovation, tech-savviness, profitability, and ‘green’ credentials”

The changing face of agri-entrepreneurs in Asia

We often hear and read about the stereotype of an Asian smallholder farmer: weathered face, wicker hat, and probably standing in a rice field. It might paint a pretty picture for travel guides, but it’s not an image that appeals to the next generation of agri-food producers in the region.

But there are forces converging to make agriculture in Asia attractive again – that is, profitable, and appealing to a better educated and technologically connected young population.

Let’s take climate change. Extreme weather and climatic variations have provided the jolt many farmers needed to stop putting all of their eggs in one basket. They are starting to realize that diversification, among others, is key to resilience. With the impacts of climate change reduced, young people will be better assured of the promise of agriculture as a profession.

We’re also witnessing a clamor for more sustainably produced food and healthier diets, especially in the region’s rapidly growing cities. From Bangkok to Bangalore, the public increasingly want to know where their food comes from, how it is produced, and if it’s safe to eat.

These are just two of the numerous movements gaining momentum in Asia, and CIAT anticipates being a part of both. In Bhutan and Myanmar, for example, we’re laying the foundation to help plan for future climates. Our longstanding partners, such as in Vietnam, China, and the Philippines, are using CIAT tools to guide large-scale public and private sector investments in the agri-food sector. And our research into eco-efficient agriculture is already helping support more resilient, sustainable, and integrated farming systems in the region.

We’ll continue to support high-value commodities, given the importance of cassava in Thailand, coffee in Indonesia, and livestock in Cambodia. We also expect to launch new national partnerships to ensure that agricultural progress is not made at the expense of the lands, forests, and river basins that provide vital ecosystem services.

But ultimately, Asia’s agriculture rests in the hands of the next generation of farmers, especially smallholders. They will be key to driving the changes the region needs. Yet for a long time, they have had limited power to change – they’d wait for the rains to come without knowing when, while often disconnected from critical support services. The rural youth, uncertain of the prospects for agriculture, have been seeking more exciting lives elsewhere.

But that’s all going to be shaken up. Equipped with a growing number of science-driven tools and services, tomorrow’s farmers will be able to make smart, informed, and independent decisions. A new breed of agri-entrepreneurs will be checking Facebook for the latest weather advisories, using smartphone apps for crowdsourcing data, and making investment presentations in agri-business forums.

In the not-too-distant future, agriculture will become synonymous with innovation, tech-savviness, profitability, and “green” credentials. Smallholder farmer-entrepreneurs – both men and women – will be recognized and rewarded for their role in feeding the region with safe, nutritious food. And armed with cutting-edge tools and technologies, they won’t be totally defenseless against nature’s whims.

As someone who grew up surrounded by farms on Asia’s Pacific edge, I’d say that the region’s agriculture sector has already come a long way. And it will continue to progress, with the stereotype of the smallholder farmer already on the cusp of transformation.

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