Empowering smallholder farmers: how Asian countries are building up their agriculture backbones by Alcimed

Empowering smallholder farmers: how Asian countries are building up their agriculture backbones!

Currently, there is an estimated population of 450 million smallholder farmers in the world, with approximately 350 million located in Asia. With 80% of the food consumed in Asia grown from these local smallholder farmers, their existence is crucial to the local economy and its sustainable development. Hence, Asian countries are placing more importance in empowering their smallholder farmers to improve their livelihood by helping them increase productivity and efficiency of their farms. In this article, Alcimed dives into the three different ways Asian countries are building up their smallholder farmers.

Providing financial assurance to smallholder farmers with online platforms

Despite being the major providers of food in the region, smallholder farmers are among the world’s most financially challenged. As a result, Asian countries have set up initiatives to provide financial security, such as encouraging the adoption of e-commerce to help farmers make direct sales. For instance, the Indian government has launched e-NAM (National Agriculture Market), an online trading platform for agricultural commodities in India. This platform aims to help farmers get fair pricing based on actual demand and supply as well as to provide facilities for smooth trading between farmers, traders, and buyers online.

The Thai government has recently signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the e-commerce platform Shopee, expecting a 30% increase in product sales. They have also confirmed a discussion with Alibaba to sell agricultural products.

Private entities are also leveraging online technologies to fund local farmers. CROWDE is an Indonesian mobile crowdfunding platform allowing users to invest in farms across the country and link registered farmers to buyers and suppliers. The investments that farmers receive are in the form of farming equipment and seeds; there are 18,000 farmers in the community. Cropital is a similar platform that connects investors to Filipino farmers. Investors receive fixed rate returns on investment based on harvest success. Cropital also provides agriculture training resources with support from global institutions in the US, Netherlands, and Malaysia.

Technological innovations to boost smallholder farmers’ capabilities

As urbanization progresses, the agriculture industry must keep up with this growth and push for higher productivity with the additional climate change challenges. Amidst this, technology is a major tool that could be employed by smallholder farmers to boost productivity and efficiency. For example, Jala is an Indonesian web-app that helps shrimp farmers monitor shrimp pond water quality in real-time, minimizing risks of harvest loss. Bayer and XAG have signed an MOU in February 2020 to bring, promote and commercialize digital farming technology in Southeast Asia & Pakistan (SEAP), with Thailand, Vietnam, and Pakistan being key countries. The aim of this collaboration is to help smallholder farmers access digital farm management know-how and technology and boost agricultural production and sustainability.

However, Grow Asia has pointed that its proposed AgTech solutions are used by merely 2.5% of the total smallholder farmers in SEA. This is majorly due to the cost of the technological solutions, which does not correlate well to smallholder farmers’ financial situations. This is where crowdfunding platforms as the ones described earlier shine. In addition, the Chinese government is promoting the adoption of intelligent equipment like automatic plowing tractors by providing subsidies to farmers purchasing such equipment via mobile applications.

Building smallholder farmers’ education and skills

Another challenge in technological adoption is the lack of skillset to operate those technologies. To improve productivity and optimize agricultural practices, Asia is building their smallholder famers’ skillset and knowledge. Educational workshops could be employed here. For example, Thammasat University in Thailand, jointly with Watchara Durian Orchard and NIM Express, held a training session for farmers in e-commerce to guide them into adoption. Meanwhile, the Indonesian government has introduced agricultural instructors to help local farmers increase production and efficiency. As a result, the country’s corn production saw such a large increase that Indonesia was able to reduce the import of corn from 3.6 million tons in 2014 to just 180,000 tons in 2018.

Unilever has expressed the importance of enhancing smallholder farmers’ livelihood. The company has multiple smallholder farmer programs aimed to improve agricultural practices in communities, such as smallholder plantation mappings, farmer training and support packages. For instance, they have carried out a project with independent mill PT SKIP for independent palm smallholder farmers in the Riau province, Indonesia. In the end, 4,000 smallholder farms have been mapped and 1,864 farmers have attended Farmer Field Schools; the region has reported high increase in productivity and fruit quality with 95% of the community reporting an improvement in garden productivity.

Despite the significant contribution in the agriculture industry, smallholder farmers face several challenges in finance and productivity. To empower these smallholder farmers and elevate their livelihood, Asia is actively working on increasing financial stability, technological adoptions, and education for smallholder farmers. This trend is supported not only by the local governments, but also from community initiatives and private entities. As more digitalized solutions are being developed to improve agricultural productivity and lessen smallholder farmers’ burdens, boosting the adoption of such solutions is the next challenge to overcome if Asia wants to anticipate the future of agriculture, which will be smart and sustainable. To overcome this major challenge, our team in APAC is ready to help you explore innovations and new approaches towards smallholder farmers!

About the Author
Bettina, Business Director and Tara, Consultant in Alcimed’s Life Sciences team in Asia-Pacific team

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