Jens Hartmann

Empowering ASEAN Smallholder Farmers

During the World Economic Forum on ASEAN and the associated Grow Asia Forum in Cambodia, political and economic leaders discussed how to strengthen Asia’s food system. One key strategy: Supporting smallholder farmers with digital farming tools.

Smallholder farmers are the backbone of world nutrition: They produce 40 percent of today’s food. Worldwide, there are 525 million smallholder farmers. 100 million of them farm in the ASEAN region.

But even with so many smallholders farming in this region, they are under tremendous pressure. ASEAN’s rising overall population is already home to over 600 million people. By 2025, Southeast Asia’s population will grow by an additional 60 million people. By 2050, it is estimated that 40 percent more food will be needed to feed the region. Other challenges to ASEAN’s food security include weather volatility as well as scarce land and water resources. And young people are leaving agricultural work, which is leading to an ageing farming system and labor shortages.

So how can we support ASEAN smallholder farmers with these emerging challenges? This was the core question during the World Economic Forum on ASEAN and the Associated Grow Asia Forum in Cambodia in May 2017.

Technology empowers smallholders

At these events, I spoke with political and economic leaders about how to empower smallholders within the ASEAN region. During inspiring panel discussions about possible solutions we realized we share a common goal: to improve smallholders’ farm productivity, profitability and environmental sustainability by up to 20 percent. How will we do this? Innovations are the key to overcome smallholders’ challenges. Harnessing technology – combined with innovative solutions – reduces the use of resources while attracting young people to work in agriculture.

Jens Hartmann
Jens Hartmann
Jens Hartmann is the Head of Asia-Pacific at Bayer Crop Science. Previously, he served Bayer in positions including Head for Bayer Crop Science in India and South Asia, Head of Global Marketing as well as CIO for Bayer Crop Science.

At Bayer, we’ve already started initial projects to support ASEAN smallholder farmers with digital technology. For example, they receive crop data, weather forecasts and alerts as well as disease risk reports and treatment options – and all of this information is tailored to the smallholders’ specific crops. With fast and specific guidance, smallholders make informed decisions - and the region’s agriculture is more sustainable and professional.

We are also developing a digital advisor that communicates best practices for farmers with their fields. This way, farmers will receive quick access and support to information that many smallholders cannot get at present. Moreover, we will be supporting farmers with digital farming scouting solutions. Through image recognition and self-learning algorithms, we are developing scouting apps that will help the farmers identify weeds, pests and diseases in the fields. We expect that the efforts with digital farming will increase ASEAN smallholders’ yields by up to 25 percent.

Digital farming is also likely to make agriculture attractive to Southeast Asia’s youth. With 50 percent of the ASEAN population below the age of 30, they are a generation that is growing up with technology and see it as a normal part of the things they do. The ASEAN youth population has incredible potential to become early adopters of Ag technology that can boost agricultural productivity - and its popularity as a profession.

Collaboration is Crucial

But this forward momentum can’t happen unless organizations in the region work together. At these forums, top minds exchanged the best approaches to try to find solutions for the area - Veng Sakhon, Cambodia’s Minster for Agriculture; Nguyen Xuan Cuong, Vietnam’s Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development; Estrella Penunia, Secretary General of Asian Farmers Association; Sarita Nayyar, Managing Director of the World Economic Forum; and William Maloney, Chief Economist for the World Bank. We agreed that the future of ASEAN’s smallholder farmers relies on collaborations along the value chain. For example, Bayer is working together with a financial institution and one of the biggest local rice companies in Indonesia to provide the best agricultural advice to ASEAN farmers.

Without a doubt, the ASEAN region is highly complex. Its diversity, fragmentation and variety of farming methods mean that regional smallholders need time to adopt new innovations. But my own participation at the World Economic Forum and the associated Grow Asia Forum reminded me of something important: ASEAN presents great opportunities if you look at this region overall. We can reach its full potential by working hand in hand. With collaboration along the value chain and digital tools for support, I’m optimistic we will empower ASEAN’s smallholders of the present – and the future – to produce the rising demand for food.

  • The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is a political and economic organization promoting economic growth and regional stability among its members. Currently, ASEAN consists of ten member states: Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam.
  • The World Economic Forum engages the foremost political, business and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas. Established in 1971 as a not-for-profit foundation, it is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. The Forum aims to demonstrate entrepreneurship in the global public interest.
  • Grow Asia is an innovative partnership which aims to improve the productivity, profitability and environmental sustainability of ASEAN’s agriculture sector through multi-stakeholder partnerships and innovative approaches. Over 120 leaders from this network gathered at the 2017 Grow Asia Forum to define strategies for smallholder farmers.
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