Agricultural production in the region is growing and will play even bigger role in the world with time. It is expected that the surplus on production will make Southeast Asian countries important agricultural trade exporter and therefore the local businesses globally interconnected. The countries in the region have different political approaches towards trade and agriculture. There are trade barriers, regulations of exports, constraints for direct foreign investment, all of which affect the ability of small-holder farmers to connect to the global market, international value chains and concentrate profits in the hands of small number of big producers. But policies not only affect the economic development in the region, it also negatively influences the resilience of the sector, which remains unprotected which exposed to natural events and volatile financial markets.
With the growing population and the process of urbanization, arable land will reduce, but the demand for food and agricultural products will continue to grow. In the face of this rural transformation process undergoing in many of the countries in the region and learning from the experiences that other countries have gone through, investments in agriculture and fighting income disparity will also support the economic growth.
The participants agreed that there is the need for innovations, for improvement of infrastructure, for more investments in specific needs of the business, in facilitating access to credit and land. And the region underperforms on regulatory level in comparison to other countries in South America and Africa. This of course also opens a window of opportunity to shift focus – from current patterns of spending in agriculture to re-direct investments towards infrastructure and credit markets, where most of the issues lay. Altogether policies should be enabling investments, domestic and foreign, should promote farmers inclusion in global markets and should be coordinated on a regional level. The knowledge and connections are available on local implementation level, taping into the resources of local governments and knowledge of farmers should be the first and fundamental step of every project and political initiative.
The group agreed also that one of the most pressing problems in the region is the missing common market. There are different rules and regulations, tariffs; there is no free market, which interrupts the supply chains. A common ASEAN market infrastructure and policy on common natural resources should be the political goal of the future. Innovation in production is inevitable, initial slow down by the government is to be expected, but there should be political will and private sector engagement to support new technology, innovations and R&D. Another action that seems to be widely supported by the participants of the Roundtable was the need to build a knowledge expert network that advises, informs and support the stakeholders across sectors, countries, models and commodities on policy developments and promotion of successful instruments of conducting inclusive business. The policy strategies should promote transparent value chains that aim at positioning farmers better in the value chains and giving leverage in negations. Special attention should be paid to youth, young entrepreneurs and to extracting knowledge from the elders. As the value chain and agriculture productivity are cross-sectorial issues (economic, gender, land, education, trade) a common less beauroucratic policy approach towards them is required. Research organisations should serve as information providers of concrete steps, solutions and strategies. GrowAsia was seen by all, as a platform that can bring bottom-up messages from research organisations and farmers to policy and private sector, that will filter and disseminate positive experiences and contacts, advocate and advise with more credibility.