Farmers, traders, and other key players in the agricultural value chain are responsible for the food needs of entire populations. In Asia and the Pacific, this means growing food for about 4 billion people—expected to reach 4.9 billion by 2030—using poor irrigation infrastructure and depleting land and water resources that are further threatened by the impacts of climate change.
Many of Asia’s farmers contend with their own poverty. Over 90% till less than two hectares of land and earn little from their harvest, due to limited access to relevant inputs, modern agricultural technologies, financing, and markets. Together, however, these smallholders contribute 80% of Asia’s food requirements.
Asia’s agricultural markets are riddled with problems, from trading cartels and local monopolies, to dilapidated storage facilities and lack of cold chain and packing systems. Such inefficiencies result in a large amount of food waste, high prices of agricultural products, and compromised food safety.
Low regard for rural development across Asia aggravates these problems. Weak rural-urban connectivity because of bad road networks hampers the transport of commodities. Underdeveloped irrigation infrastructure and unreliable power supply disrupt farming processes. Lack of access to education and healthcare provides additional distress to farmer families. The rural youth, already disinterested in back-breaking farm work, opt to migrate to cities to look for more lucrative opportunities.
Food security remains a problem for most countries in Asia, despite the region’s progress in reducing hunger and malnutrition. In 2017, about 518 million people remained food insecure. Shifting dietary preference—from cereals to meat, oils, fruits, and vegetables—offers a new challenge to achieving food security, as do the negative impacts of climate change on production, resulting in increased food prices. However, according to ADB’s new report Ending Hunger in Asia and the Pacific by 2030: An Assessment of Investment Requirements in Agriculture, it is possible to reduce the number of food insecure people to below 5% of the total population by 2030 by doubling annual investments in agriculture.
In 2019, 17 cofinanced projects were primarily tagged against the agricultural, natural resources, and food security sector, with cofinancing amounting to $23.7 million. However, Strategy 2030’s work towards promoting rural development and food security does not only count these projects. The approach is multisectoral such that projects in health, education, water, or climate change can also be counted as supportive of this operational priority, provided they support aspects of this operational priority. In 2019, ADB and its financing partners began work on several innovative projects to address the broad gaps in rural development and food security, especially on the application of modern technologies in agriculture and improving agricultural markets and connectivity.
Improving Market Connectivity and Agricultural Value Chain Linkages to Enhance Rural-Urban Area Connectivity and Mobility
ADB is focusing on agriculture-related services, rural roads, market infrastructure, and agri-logistics centers to enable the integration of more producers, agribusinesses, and consumers into national, regional, and global food systems. Reducing postharvest losses and promoting agricultural value addition will help increase rural incomes and enhance food security.
ADB’s partnership with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) is going strong as bilateral discussions in May 2019 identified new opportunities for future collaboration, covering not only project design and cofinancing, but also knowledge management, policy engagement, and joint partnerships with other development partners such as the private sector and farmers' organizations. For 2019-2021, IFAD estimates potential cofinancing of $171.5 million for Afghanistan and Pakistan; $135 million for the People’s Republic of China and Mongolia; $423.3 million for Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka; and $195 million for Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand, and Viet Nam.
In 2019, IFAD approved a $40 million grant for the Afghanistan: Arghandab Integrated Water Resources Development Project. This will, in general, improve the availability and management of water resources in the Arghandab basin in Kandahar province. Among its relevant expected outcomes are increased reliability of irrigation water supplies downstream of the Dahla dam and improved agriculture water productivity by providing on-farm support to farmers to improve crop production.
ADB’s Water Financing Partnership Facility (WFPF) continues to support agricultural value chain linkages in its work to provide additional financial and knowledge resources that deliver more productive and efficient irrigation and drainage services, sustainable access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation, and reduced risks to floods. In 2019, 30% of WFPF total allocations, equivalent to $3 million, went to irrigation and water resources management projects.
In 2019, the WFPF contributed $950,000 to the Regional: Southeast Asia Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Development Facility, which will provide project preparation support, project implementation support, capacity building, and policy advice to a series of ongoing and ensuing projects in the agriculture, natural resources, and rural development sector in Southeast Asia. The contribution is specifically for project preparation in Cambodia, Philippines, and Viet Nam. It also contributed $750,000 to the Bangladesh: Preparing the Climate and Disaster Resilient Small-Scale Water Resources Management Project, a feasibility study to enhance government readiness for a project that will improve agricultural productivity and profitability through sustainable small-scale water resources management.
Bangladesh is preparing for a $100 million investment in climate and disaster resilient small-scale water resources management. The Water Financing Partnership Facility, through The Netherlands Trust Fund, is supporting the preparations.
To improve agricultural value chains in Pakistan, the Agence Française de Développement, through the Cooperation Fund for Project Preparation in the Greater Mekong Subregion and in Other Specific Asian Countries (AFD Trust Fund), is providing $200,000 for the Pakistan: Preparing the Punjab Agriculture Markets Development Project. The project will finance the development of a modern holistic wholesale agriculture market in Lahore and prepare a master plan for development of wholesale markets in other locations. The AFD Trust Fund was established in 2005 and has a total committed funds of $5.8 million as of December 2019.
In Cambodia, the Project Readiness Improvement Trust Fund is contributing $150,000 as additional financing for the Cambodia: Tonle Sap Poverty Reduction and Smallholder Development Project. The additional financing will enhance agricultural productivity and improve access to markets in target communes through investments in climate-resilient infrastructure, building capacity in disaster risk management of the communities, and creating an enabling environment for agricultural productivity, diversification, and climate resilience.
Increasing Agricultural Productivity and Food Security Using High-Level Technologies
Advanced technologies can increase the efficiency of agricultural operations and ensure the sustainable use of land and water resources. With $500,000 financing each from the Republic of Korea e-Asia and Knowledge Partnership Fund and the High-Level Technology Fund, ADB approved the Regional: Digital Solutions to Improve Agricultural Value Chains Project. This project is testing the use of information and communication technologies in agriculture in increasing productivity, efficiency, and profitability of stakeholders along value chains. This eAgriculture system is being pilot-tested in Pakistan, with planned replication in Bangladesh, Tajikistan, and Viet Nam.
The High-Level Technology Fund is also providing a $1.6 million grant to the Cambodia: Irrigated Agriculture Improvement Project to modernize and climate-proof irrigation systems and improve farming practices and promote crop diversification. The grant will help establish a water resources management data center to improve data use on in better water resources planning, management, and investment.
The Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction is providing $2 million for the Pakistan: Enhancing Technology-Based Agriculture and Marketing in Rural Punjab to facilitate the rapid adoption of advanced technologies to improve the productivity and profitability of the agriculture sector in Punjab Province, Pakistan. It will help increase farmers' access to such technologies to strengthen agriculture value chains in rural Punjab. It will also enable further development and adoption of advanced technologies to benefit the agriculture sector.
The WFPF-supported Indonesia: Integrated Participatory Development and Management of Irrigation Program was also completed in 2019. The $105,000 WFPF funding enabled the introduction of LIDAR (light detection and ranging) surveys for operations and maintenance of irrigation networks. The precision of this high-level technology allows the easy identification of irrigation infrastructure that need utmost rehabilitation. About 6,000 hectares of irrigation area were covered by the WFPF-funded LIDAR pilot survey.
Enhancing Food Safety Through Improved Policies, Standards, and Institutions
ADB organized the Rural Development and Food Security Forum 2019, the only global event that discussed development of rural areas as a driving force to food security. ADB’s partners in mounting the forum were the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, International Atomic Energy Agency, International Food Policy Research Institute, International Fund for Agricultural Development, International Rice Research Institute, World Bank, WorldFish, World Food Programme, and the World Vegetable Centre. With the theme “Transformative Changes for Rural Prosperity and Nutritious Food,” the forum called upon ADB developing member countries to prioritize agricultural development and rural prosperity in their national agenda and invited development partners to share knowledge and solutions to achieve food security in the region.
Following the forum, ADB approved several programs and projects that aim to enhance food security in the region, including the cofinanced Regional: Greater Mekong Subregion Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security Program. With $750,000 funding each from the Climate Change Fund and the People’s Republic of China Poverty Reduction and Regional Cooperation Fund, the program will promote the Greater Mekong Subregion as a leading supplier of safe and climate-friendly agri-food products through investments and increased capacities for climate-friendly, safe and sustainable agri-food value chains.
ADB’s 2019 report, “Ending Hunger in Asia and the Pacific by 2030,” proposes to double investments in agricultural research and development, improvement of water management, and infrastructure to reduce marketing costs and postharvest losses. Such large investment, the report said, will help end hunger and malnutrition and achieve food security in the region by 2030. Future financing partnerships keen on fast-tracking agriculture sector development should take heed. Likewise, work on improving market connectivity and agricultural value chain linkages and promoting the adoption of climate-smart farming technologies should be smarter and more sustainable. Digital technologies application, digital rural financing, more policy dialogues for improved complementation of efforts on-the-ground, antimicrobial resistance, zoonotic diseases, cross-country and cross-regional learning are only some of the emerging areas in this operational priority moving forward. From ongoing threats such as climate change to emerging new threats such as global pandemics, the need to protect food systems in Asia and the Pacific is getting more critical as we strive to prevent another food crisis.