Structural transformation in Southeast Asia poses challenges to the regions' food security and inclusive agricultural growth agenda. Integration of agricultural markets within ASEAN is high on the policy agenda given the current pressure on moving towards the establishment of a common market. An improvement in agricultural value chains' competitiveness is supportive of the broader effort towards achieving ASEAN economies that are competitive. Southeast Asia faces two fundamental challenges: First, regional supply chains of key crops are proliferating and primary producing countries fear losing sovereignty and missing opportunities for domestic industrialization and value addition. Second, national and rural food-security strategies are often at odds with farm diversification away from traditional staple crops. Furthermore, with a growing urban population food price shocks are perceived as a major threat by all countries in the region, leading to sub-optimal policy outcomes for each country as well as collectively.
Yet, both concerns need re-examination given the rapid transformation of Asia's farming systems and urban consumption patterns and the associated growing pressures for farm mechanization, downstream industrialization, diversification of rural livelihoods, and adoption of more stringent food safety and quality standards.
To mitigate the risk of food-price shocks and their impact on national food markets, ASEAN has established both the ASEAN Food Reserve and the ASEAN +3 Emergency Rice Reserve (APTERR), which puts in place an emergency rice stock for ASEAN member states plus China, Japan, and Korea. For maximum effectiveness, the ASEAN Food Reserve could benefit from coordinating with national food-stock policies and food reserves as well as an ASEAN food information and early warning system.
Currently, progress in implementing the ASEAN food-security framework remains limited. Unless food security and smallholder inclusiveness are credibly harmonized with ASEAN’s competitiveness agenda, improvements in regional agricultural and food markets will be inadequate, leaving them vulnerable to sudden disruptions.
Against this backdrop, there is a strong need for evidence-based, empirical policy analysis and dialogue to foster cooperation among ASEAN member states and to help align and engage all stakeholders. This process of building confidence and enhancing cooperation will facilitate the development of national and regional roadmaps for food and agri-based value chains.
The ATMI program targets five ASEAN member states— Cambodia, Laos PDR, Myanmar, Philippines, and Viet Nam with the following objectives:
- To strengthen target ASEAN member states’ capacity to develop policies and programs that help the smallholder farm sector adjust to changes in sub regional agricultural and food markets; and
- To promote cooperation in food security and agricultural development among all ASEAN member states by developing strategic programs and measures in the areas of R&D, food safety, and quality standards, as well as encouraging investments in food and agri-based industries.
Achieving these objectives should produce two key outcomes: improved smallholder competitiveness in the production of key food and industrial crops; and reduced exposure of less-developed member states to food-security shocks.