This article was originally published by Cristianne Close and is republished with permission.
A few weeks ago the Responsible Business Forum on Food and Agriculture in Jakarta hosted a panel on Food Security and the SDGs, which looked for solutions to ensure food security and protect biodiversity.
The panel consisted of actors from across the food system value chain, from government to finance, production to consumption. It was encouraging to see they all agreed closer collaboration is necessary to advance the SDGs. Sylvia Low
, Director, Corporate Responsibility, Hilton, said “we’re on an always-evolving journey, our suppliers are part of that, we’re all constantly learning.” Nathan Belete
, Practice Manager, Agriculture Global Practice, East Asia and the Pacific World Bank, said his biggest concern is figuring out how the public and private sectors can work better together “we need to identify the challenges that prevent this from happening, because we need collaboration to advance the SDGs.” Alexander Berkovskiy,
Territory Head, ASEAN, Syngenta summed things up nicely, saying, “our contribution alone can never be enough.”
Across the panel, technology was seen as a key area to work on to achieve a paradigm shift in the food system. Nathan noted the importance of reducing emissions from food production and said, “agriculture needs an electric car.” He felt the private sector had to be involved as this is where most innovation happens. Alexander, agreed, highlighting the fact agriculture is a sector with many uncertainties– so while interest in technology is there among many farmers, they simply can’t afford much of the technology which could change their production. “Private companies need to collaborate with financial institutions, the dialect between them is critical to bringing access to capital but also technology to farmers.”
A challenge highlighted across the whole forum was the need to engage smallholder farmers. Of the 500 million smallholders in the world, around 100 million are in Asia Pacific. It is imperative that they are not simply pushed to adopt technology to increase productivity, food security and sustainability – ensuring a dichotomy does not emerge between higher yields and environmental conservation is important. As Mam Am Not, Secretary of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Cambodia, said, “our farmers need more education on environmental needs– we must invest in this first, then we can invest in the technology which they can use.”
Alexander stressed that “reaching smallholders in Asia is the bottleneck – we need to find more ways to better share knowledge, to help them try to test and see the results.” There are, however, already some examples of affordable tech being made available to smallholders, be it sharing economy services like Hello Tractor, an on-demand smart tractor service in West Africa, or collective purchasing like the drone technology World Bank is deploying in China to help precision farming, wherein collectives split the implementation costs.
One of the biggest drivers for increased collaboration can be changes in market demand. As Sylvia pointed out, there is consumer pressure to provide high quality produce at affordable prices – as such, “connecting with how local markets produce and consume is important – local sourcing is a priority.” The challenge comes when local smallholder producers do not meet the quality criteria of sustainable procurement policies, due to a lack of access to finance, certifications, markets and so on. Ideally, in the future, smallholder produce can be recognized as sustainable as well as local and seasonal.
What resonated with much of the audience was what Maman Not said: “we have a responsibility not only for this generation, but for the future as well.” That brings it all together – talking about tech solutions and about empowering smallholders is nice, but none of it is meaningful if it’s only about expanding production. We need to bring humanity to the forefront of the discussion –we all want a better planet for ourselves and our children. That means everyone having enough and nutritious food – but it also means a biodiverse and healthy planet. Food security isn’t just one of the SDGs; it’s an integrated part of a sustainable future.