The Quiet Revolution in Staple Food Value Chains

Publication | December 2012

Feeding nine billion people by 2050 is a top priority on the global agenda for sustainable and inclusive development. This task is especially formidable in Asia, where more than two-thirds of the world's poor and malnourished people live. Food prices in Asia are projected to remain high and volatile, and food production is likely to be challenged by the combined effects of resource degradation and increasing climate variability and change. Ensuring food security in this region requires urgent actions to improve the productivity and climate resilience of agriculture and to upgrade the food value chains to ensure adequate and affordable food supplies.

This book, as its title denotes, documents the quiet revolution in staple food value chains now changing the face of Asia. It provides a systematic and rigorous review of the structural transformation pathways of these food chains and the catalytic roles that governments, the private sector, civil society, and international development institutions can play in the process. While not intended as a policy analysis for food security, the study provides critical guideposts for assessing and addressing all segments of the food chains that unnecessarily contribute to higher retail food prices. Most significantly, the book provides a clearer picture of how staple food value chains can benefit inclusive economic growth trajectories.

Findings

The study has several broad strategic implications. First, there is no "silver bullet" for the challenges facing staples value chains in the region, although individual changes like technology changes can have powerful knock-on effects in the chain. Rather, a suite of policy and program measures is needed at various levels of the supply chain in order to stimulate the efficiency and competitiveness of expanding staples markets. Even small reductions in margins can lead to large benefits for producers and consumers.

The most effective government interventions occurred with a cluster of activities that supported various parts of the value chain in an integrated way. A good example is that of cold storage facility (CSF) development in Agra, India, where government research and development in potato varieties and extension services for the new varieties were combined with tube well and CSF subsidies and major investments in road improvements, power grid, and communications networks. Individually, these actions may have been relatively fruitless; taken together, they were successful.

Second, different policies are needed for the widely different zones and farm strata within them. Asian staples-producing farm areas are not homogeneous, composed only of millions of tiny farms with similar nonland assets. Rather, there is a wide degree of heterogeneity across rice and potato areas, and major differences across farmer strata in the study zones for this book and between them and other zones for which like information is available. This implies that "one size does not fit all" and that government strategies need to be tailored to different situations. In particular, marginal farmers are at a disadvantage in these transformations, as are more hinterland zones.

Third, growth, market modernization, and agribusiness and food industry themes and debates are often held at arm's length from policy discussions on poverty reduction and food security. This study has shown that value-chain transformation is important to farmers' incomes, rural employment, and access to and affordability of staples for urban consumers. This is especially important, given that Asia's urban areas are home to half of Asia's population and account for two-thirds to three-quarters of its food demand. Harnessing the value-chain transformation for food security should be front and center in the policy agenda of the 21st century.

Lastly, the successes in dynamic areas feeding major cities documented in this study may provide lessons that could be applied elsewhere. The study found much evidence of success, of ferment of change and transformation, and in many cases of improved performance. Thus, many of the implications will be based on what the authors saw that governments and the private sector did well in these zones and that could be extended to other nearby zones and, if possible, to the poorest and hinterland areas. Lessons from dynamic zones today can be important for allowing today's poor zones to join the ranks of the dynamic areas tomorrow.

Contents 

  • Foreword
  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Sector Overview, Study Areas, and Sampling Framework
  • Upstream - Rice Farm Transformation
  • Midstream - Transformation of the Rice Mill and Trader Segments
  • Downstream - Rice Retail Transformation
  • Performance of the Rice Value Chain - Rewards, Costs, and Margins
  • Upstream - Potato Farm Transformation
  • Midstream - Transformation of the Potato Cold Storage and Trading Segments
  • Downstream - Potato Retail Transformation
  • Performance of the Potato Value Chain - Rewards, Costs, and Margins
  • Summary and Policy Implications