June 24, 2010, SINGAPORE. The sharp rise in world food prices of 2007 and 2008 showed that keeping nutritional food available and affordable is a continuous task—for families, communities, businesses, and governments.
At their first-ever joint conference on food security, June 16-18, 2010, policymakers of the Association of Southeastern Asian Nations (ASEAN) and representatives of the private sector expressed their conviction that the task is best accomplished through deliberate public-private collaboration.
The conference was sponsored by the ASEAN-US Technical Assistance and Training Facility (TATF), the ASEAN Secretariat, and the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore. Funded by USAID and the U.S. State Department, the TATF is managed by Nathan Associates.
In his opening remarks, H.E. Dr. Mohamad Maliki Bin Osman—Singapore’s Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of National Development—expressed his hope that the conference would give rise to more public-private partnerships on food security. H.E. Sundram Pushpanathan, Deputy Secretary General for the ASEAN Economic Community, said that “strong commitment from the public sector coupled with private sector engagement is the core formula towards long-term food security.”
At the conference, policymakers and representatives of agricultural and food companies—including Anova Food Group, GenoMar, ILSI Southeast Asia, Mars Symbioscience, Monsanto, Olam International, Procuro, Rabobank, and Syngenta—discussed prospects for increased food production in the region, the economic environment necessary to attract investment to agriculture and food industries, how to make food safer, and how companies can factor the effects of climate change into business plans.
Representatives of the Asian Development Bank, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, and the International Rice Research Instritute were also present. They agreed to work together to increase food production, improve food safety, facilitate trade in food commodities, and develop more effective food markets. They also identified many opportunities for public-private collaboration in agricultural research, extension, technology, information dissemination, and marketing. The private sector will be helping the public sector identify where policies could be improved to promote trade, market access, and investments that support food security.
The conference also broadened the definition of food security for ASEAN. Dr. Peter Timmer, Harvard University professor emeritus and consultant to Nathan Associates, said that “ASEAN is well advanced down the path of structural transformation of its economy, with important implications for food security: higher growth and higher per capita incomes mean that ASEAN diets are more diversified and rice, while still an essential commodity, no longer represents the majority of calories consumed or household food expenditures.”
Dr. Thomas Reardon, Michigan State University economist and Nathan Associates partner, noted that with 50-70 percent of total food cost attributable to post-harvest segments of the supply chain, improving the efficiency of the entire food chain is at least as important for food security as raising farm productivity.
The conference was also supported by Monsanto, the US-ASEAN Business Council, and TCBoost, a USAID project managed by Nathan Associates.