As climate change increasingly impacts the stability of Asia’s food production and distribution, what partnerships and synergies have the greatest potential to build a more sustainable and resilient food system?

We interviewed leaders from BASF, OLAM AGRI and GROW ASIA for a taster of the exciting conversations to come this month at the Asia-Pacific Agri-Food Innovation Summit in Singapore on October 31 – November 2.

Firstly, let’s take a look at unique challenges faced by the Asia-Pacific agri-food ecosystem. Beverley Postma is the Executive Director of GROW ASIA, a multi-stakeholder platform established in 2015 by the World Economic Forum and ASEAN to cultivate more inclusive, resilient, and sustainable food systems. We asked her:

What is the role of Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) in creating greater collaboration across the Asia-Pacific ecosystem?

BP: “Southeast Asia is integral to the global food supply, contributing to 90% of global rice production in 2019 and expanding influence in fruit, vegetables, and coffee. However, the region faces challenges – it accounts for over 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions and 80% of deforestation and biodiversity loss.

Beverley Postma, Executive Director
Beverley Postma, Executive Director

The backbone of food security in Southeast Asia are 70 million rural MSMEs, who account for about 80% of agricultural production. These small businesses often suffer a lack of access to finance, hindering their ability to increase productivity and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Food systems transformation requires significant investment – studies show that $31 billion of financing needs remain unmet in Southeast Asia, innovation, and collaboration to address climate change, food insecurity, and unsustainable production practices.

Public-Private Partnerships can bridge the gap between previously siloed efforts from public, private, and philanthropic entities by uniting diverse stakeholders to leverage each other’s strengths and resources to drive transformative change.”

Julie Greene, CSO
Julie Greene, CSO

How does the need for investment and innovation differ to that of Europe and North America? Are enough solutions to address these unique challenges being developed and commercialised?

Julie Greene, CSO at OLAM AGRI, a food, feed and fibre agri-business with a global origination footprint and processing capabilities focused on emerging markets, outlines one of main challenges of the Asia-Pacific region, and how the company is uniting the value chain to overcome it:

JG: “One of the main challenges in the agri-food ecosystem in Asia, as well as Africa, stems from smallholder farming on land sizes often less than two hectares. Smallholder farmers often do not have access to adequate financing as they are often deemed as too small with a high-risk profile. We collaborate with farming communities, banks and other organisations to help open up access to financing to those smallholder farmers and in some cases extend financing to them ourselves.”

Simone Barg is responsible for the Agricultural Solutions division in Asia Pacific, at BASF. She echoes Julie’s remarks to highlight the unique and varied challenges faced by different countries in the Asia-Pacific, and explains how BASF encourages collaboration between governments and private companies:

Simone Barg, Senior VP, Agricultural Solutions
Simone Barg, Senior VP, Agricultural Solutions

SB: “To address the specific situations in the various countries with their socio-economic status, we at BASF Agricultural Solutions take the approach of understanding the agri-food systems with their particular needs, and structures to support farmers in these countries.

In Japan, we are reaching out to farmers and connecting with agricultural business partners to introduce our xarvio® Digital Farming technologies that would allow them to meet the government’s MeaDRI strategy of being more resource efficient while achieving better yields. Field studies have proven that rice farmers were able to reduce the need for fertilisers by 20-25% while increasing their yields by 15%.”

Every region has its specific challenges. But what about similarities, and how can realising these offer opportunities? Julie Greene tells us more about the synergies she sees across many countries in the region, specifically rice, and the opportunities this poses for cross-country and value-chain collaborations to improve sustainability:

Julie Greene, CSO
Julie Greene, CSO

JG: “We see synergies across specific supply chains that share similar challenges and opportunities across borders, and with partners that share the same values and goals. Rice is a good example as it’s grown in many countries across Asia and primarily by the same profile of farmers, which are smallholder farmers often with land sizes of less than two hectares.

We’ve been collaborating closely with the German development agency GIZ for many years to uplift the lives of smallholder farmers and promote sustainable farming practices. In the key rice export markets of India, Thailand and Vietnam, our initiatives have led to higher yields and incomes for smallholder farmers while reducing GHG emissions and using fertilisers and water more efficiently. Our sustainable rice initiative in Southeast Asia with GIZ has been nominated for the Reuters Responsible Business Awards in the Social Impact category this year. Going one step further, we share our experience and knowledge across the Global South. In rice farming, we’ve successfully applied what we’ve learned in Asia to countries like Nigeria which has seen yields and incomes increase while farming practices become more sustainable.”

Simone Barg, Senior VP, Agricultural Solutions
Simone Barg, Senior VP, Agricultural Solutions

Simone Barg offers further examples of BASF’s collaborations across the value chain, specifically with technology partners, to improve sustainability:

SB: “BASF want to live up to our responsibility for making agriculture more sustainable. One way we do this is with our products and solutions for farmers – but that is not all. This transformation can only be overcome together, with collaborative partnerships across the industry and food value chain to harness each other’s expertise. For example, in precision farming, we are partnering with drone providers to support better farming practices and safer stewardship processes. We are also collaborating with field machinery companies such as Kubota in Japan. Through the integration of BASF’s xarvio® FIELD MANAGER and Kubota’s KSAS platform, farmers will benefit from greater user convenience. At the same time, compared to standard farming practices, they can optimise their fertiliser use, while increasing their yields.”

Julie Greene, CSO
Julie Greene, CSO

Collaboration not only offers the opportunity to work with new technologies, but as Julie puts it, an opportunity to ‘foster innovation’ within agriculture. She explains the opportunities Olam Agri has created for innovators through partnerships:

JG: “We also collaborate to foster innovation in agriculture. We are currently working with Aquapower, a social impact company based in Brazil that specialises in sustainable energy solutions, to pilot an innovative cost-effective solution to reduce water usage of smallholder rice farms, the success of which will lead to a reduction in GHG emissions. That collaboration started from a participation as a Challenge Owner in the Sustainability Open Innovation Challenge (SOIC) 2022, launched by Enterprise Singapore, that aimed to bring together industry partners and creative innovators to co-develop sustainable solutions.

We are also collaborating with Agrimax, a Singapore-based company specialising in research and development of agricultural related products on a trial on 13 farms across a total land area of 39 hectares in Cote d’Ivoire. The trial will measure the impact of the Agrimax biostimulant (DK-20) which is an organic product, to be used as an additive for pest control and crop nutrition in cotton farming. The desired outcome is to raise crop yields per hectare, improve fibre quality, and enhance soil health. This will help improve the livelihoods of farmers and their families, and help make smallholder cotton farming more sustainable, in line with our purpose to transform agriculture for a more sustainable future.”

Beverley Postma, Executive Director
Beverley Postma, Executive Director

Looking ahead to the future, how do we future proof food production in the region? How do we inspire, educate and motivate the next generation of farmers?

SB: “Adopting new agricultural technologies is essential. Typically, a capital of less than $15,000 per farm can lead to this modern shift. However, financing remains a hurdle, especially for young farmers. Public-private partnerships can alleviate this challenge and provide a solution. By unifying governments, impact investors, financial institutions, and other stakeholders, there’s potential to create innovative financing methods that ensure ample capital for young farmers.

Investing in new agricultural technologies and young farmers is crucial for Southeast Asia’s future. These investments promise not only enhanced productivity but also environmental conservation. Prioritizing the youth and innovative tech is the path towards resilience against looming climate challenges, benefiting not just individual farmers but entire communities and the global food chain.”

Beverley, Julie, and Simone will join the panel ‘Building Resilience: Food Security at the Intersection of Agriculture, Water and Climate’ at the summit this October 31 – November 2. Explore the agenda to discover all the conversations that will be ignited this month when 1,000+ agri-food stakeholders gather in Singapore.  

AGRI-TECH  – DAY 1&2 FOOD-TECH – DAY 1&2  INDOOR AGTECH – DAY 3  BLUE FOOD – DAY 3