24/06/2020 Bangkok, Thailand
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused great disruptions to the agricultural economies of Southeast Asia, and severely impacted countless livelihoods of the more than 600 million people living in the ten countries that make up the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Sectors of the economy focused on food and agriculture have taken the brunt of much of the impact. Health and safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are likely to seriously affect smallholder livelihoods, including those of family farmers, and trade the most. The physical distancing, lockdowns, travel and trade disruptions have seriously reduced activities across the food system.
ASEAN statistics indicate that agriculture, which include farming, fishing, and forestry, contributed to 10.6 percent of ASEAN GDP in 2018. It remains a significant contributor to employment in Lao PDR and Cambodia at nearly 72 percent and 55 percent, respectively, followed by Myanmar and Viet Nam at nearly 50 percent and 42 percent respectively. In other member states, notably Thailand, roughly one-third of GDP is attributed to agriculture, and more than 30 percent in Indonesia and 8 percent in the Philippines. While there has been a shift to manufacturing and other off-farm service sectors in several of these countries, a significant part of the population remains dependent on agriculture in all member nations.
Food without borders
Agriculture also contributes significantly to regional and international trade. Myanmar had the largest share of agricultural products as a proportion of total exports at 28 percent in the same year. Agricultural products accounted for just under one-fifth of total exports in Indonesia and Lao PDR. Agricultural product shares in total imports in 2018 were highest in Myanmar at more than 13 percent, more than 12 percent in Lao PDR and Brunei Darussalam, while the Philippines reported nearly 9 percent.
This week, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) convened a roundtable panel discussion with senior officials from ministries of agriculture and forestry from ASEAN nations (ASEAN SOM-AMAF). The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) moderated a discussion with various stakeholders as part of the roundtable.
From FAO, regional specialists on agricultural policy, economics, food safety and trade joined the discussions.
“The COVID-19 pandemic hit the region and its food systems very hard and very fast,” said Jong-Jin Kim, FAO Deputy Regional Representative and head of the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific. “At today’s forum senior policy makers from ASEAN and FAO brought together a coalition of development partners, funding agencies, civil society, private sector and research institutions to discuss ideas and concrete proposals to make food systems more sustainable and resilient as we work our way through this pandemic and beyond.”
“AMAF looks forward to a successful collaboration with FAO and development partners to address the adverse impacts of COVID-19 on food systems. We also need to take the long view and plan the recovery such that we can progress towards the SDGs,” said Hajah Tutiaty Binti Haji Abdul Wahab of Brunei Darussalam, Chair of SOM-AMAF.
**Seeding a future of food security **
The participants discussed the importance of sharing data and information on crops, livestock and other commodities, and the proposal for a food and agricultural trade information system. Other proposals included facilitation of intra-regional trade of food and agricultural products, including trade with partner countries that already have FTAs with ASEAN. They also considered the possibility of establishing an ASEAN seed bank, while acknowledging that community seed banks already exist in some member nations.
Going forward, FAO will continue to provide assistance and advice to ASEAN to strengthen natural resource management to help make food systems more resilient, as well as to improve and safeguard the livelihoods of everyone along the value chain from farm to family.