Asean experts mull ways to improve region’s agriculture

VIENTIANE (Vientiane Times/ANN) - Asean is recognised as a top exporter of agricultural and food products, of which fresh fruit and vegetables top the list, but the region is faced with many challenges in terms of food production and safety. 

Producers need to ensure the quality and quantity of yields and minimise pre-and post-harvest losses. Member countries also need to ensure food security and increase resilience to changes in climate.

These are among the topics being discussed at the 14th meeting of the Asean Technical Working Group on Agriculture and Development (14th ATWGARD), which is taking place from May 30-31 in Vientiane.

The meeting is considering ways to improve the performance of the agriculture sector in Asean countries.

Participants will seek to boost cooperation between researchers in the Asean network when assessing the agricultural potential of each country, in order to ensure the quality and quantity of production, said the Deputy Director General of the National Agriculture and Forestry Research Institute (NAFRI), Mr Khamphone Mounlamai, who chaired the meeting.

It is imperative to improve and promote agricultural research and development among all Asean member states, Mr Khamphone said. This would help to enhance the quality of agricultural products of member countries, ensure food safety and increase competitiveness in regional and international trade.

Agriculture continues to play a major role in Laos’ economy but is still facing many challenges, especially from weather extremes, limited funding and a lack of technical know-how.

Climate change is already impacting agricultural production and the long term future of agriculture and food security is at risk.

The sector is expected to expand by 2.5 percent in 2019 and 2020, which will be 0.4 percent less than last year, according to a report from the Asian Development Bank.

The main crop grown in the region is rice. Other important products include vegetables, fruit, sweetcorn, cassava, bananas, coffee, sugarcane, cotton, tea and peanuts.

Livestock grazing is also an important component of rural livelihoods, with water buffalo, pigs, cattle and chickens being the principle livestock.

The government, especially the agriculture, forestry and rural development sector, is encouraging domestic and foreign entrepreneurs to invest in and help develop the agriculture sector and give a boost to commercial livestock farming.

The sector is also working with development partners and international organisations to further fund advances in growing commercial crops and pursuing livestock farming as one of the main contributors to poverty eradication. The majority of the population remains dependent on agriculture for their livelihood.