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World Food Day 2020

Tackling disruption to Asia’s food supply chain due to COVID-19

iStock / Getty Images Plus / kritsada pananchai

Grahame Dixie

Executive Director, Grow Asia

Maria Elena Varas

Lead, Food Action Alliance, World Economic Forum

 As COVID-19 continues to unfold, its impact in Asia has been felt across the economy, severely diminishing growth prospects.

Increased poverty levels and disrupted supply chains have significantly impacted food getting from farm to fork.

Agriculture and food value chains play a vital role in Asia’s economy. The outbreak of COVID-19 underscores an urgency to build a more resilient food system. Public-private partnerships have never been needed more. They can demonstrate that, by working together, key segments of the economy can strike the right balance and accelerate change.

Changing farming processes to improve yield

Grow Asia’s coffee working group in Viet Nam can provide one example. Private sector giants, Nestlé, Yara and Syngenta worked with IDH, the Viet Nam government and multiple other partners since 2012 to improve the sustainability of Robusta coffee production in the Republic.

At its early stages, the group tested, developed, and refined a series of changes to how Robusta coffee was grown, raising yields by 14% while reducing the use of fertilisers, agrochemicals, and water. Practices were implemented by 3,000 farmers – 0.5% of all coffee growers in Viet Nam. But to have a bigger impact, scaling the solution was needed.

Public-private partnerships can demonstrate that key segments of the economy can strike the right balance and accelerate change.

Improving public-private cooperation to improve the coffee sector

The Ministry of Agriculture spearheaded the creation of a national committee for sustainable coffee production – the Viet Nam Coffee Coordination Board (VCCB). Since its creation, the VCCB adopted the developed Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) into the National Sustainability Curriculum for Robusta production. Between 2016-19, it delivered over 300,000 trainings to coffee farmers and saved the sector approximately US$165 million of cash flow annually by adjusting the Value Added Tax (VAT) of coffee green beans.

These measures, brought about by public-private cooperation, impacted over 100,000 coffee farmers – 20% of all coffee growers in Viet Nam. This work has resulted in a more coordinated and competitive coffee sector in Viet Nam, which has been able to quickly adapt to and overcome the hurdles presented by the global spread of COVID-19.

Using technology to improve food security

The United Nations will host a Food Systems Summit in 2021 to bring the international community together to search for, science-based solutions for food systems. Enabling the adoption of innovation and technology will be a key lever.

Grow Asia’s ‘digital learning series’ revealed that very few farmers have ever used an agricultural digital application (1-2%) but that there were high levels of participation in chat rooms (20% – 40% dependent on country).

This led to a series of Hackathons, an accelerator, a database of the +60 agricultural applications operating in ASEAN, a design course based in an Indonesian village for start-up and corporates), and a study to really understand how farmers used technology. Findings show there is clear room for growth and potential new ways to tap into this community and share important information faster.

A sustainable and more resilient food future in Asia requires the concerted effort of various actors and support from the next generation of farmers. There is a clear runway and a stronger position ahead of us on the world stage if we can act together.

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