In the News: ASEAN ministers should protect interests of smallholder farmers

In the News: ASEAN ministers should protect interests of smallholder farmers

From September 23 to 25, ASEAN Ministers on Agriculture and Forestry (AMAF) will hold their annual meeting in Nay Pyi Taw. Prior to this meeting, the Food Security Working Group (FSWG), a network of national and international NGO’s working on food security in Myanmar, organised a regional civil society dialogue, during which civil society representatives from a range of ASEAN countries discussed and formulated recommendations for their agriculture ministers.

Besides some general recommendations, the joint statement of the meeting concentrates on five priority topics: nutrition, land governance, trade liberalisation, rice policies and agricultural investments.

In terms of nutrition, the participants advised the ministers to integrate nutrition into their agricultural policies. Agricultural policies should not be only aimed at maximising production but more importantly making sure that production increases also lead to better nutritional outcomes, especially for the most vulnerable people. This might mean not only concentrating on rice production but also other crops and livestock to ensure a balanced diet, and increasing the awareness of people to balance their diets, especially pregnant woman and young children.

Concerning land tenure and natural resource governance, participants called for all ASEAN countries to strengthen land and natural resource administrative policies and legal frameworks, and to implement the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure. These measures should protect farmers against land grabs. Making it easy for farmers to register their land will also encourage them to invest more in their land and increase their production. Participants also called for recognition of shifting cultivation by smallholder farmers in hilly areas as a legitimate land use. It should also be made easy for farmers to register these lands as their own.

The launch of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015 will result in liberalisation of the trade in agricultural products between ASEAN countries. This offers threats and opportunities for smallholder farmers, depending on the products they grow and their comparative advantages compared to farmers in other ASEAN countries. Government should closely monitor the impact of this liberalisation and put in place measures to ease the negative effects. Governments should also make sure that farmers get a fair chance to compete, through measures such as ensuring they can trade their products freely in their own countries. And, of course, government should support farmers to improve their production to be able to compete.

On rice policy, participants called on ASEAN countries and the bloc’s secretariat to make sure the ASEAN Plus Three Emergency Rice Reserve serves as an effective buffer in case of calamity. Rice reserves at the national level should be administered efficiently, without corruption, and should support stable rice markets.

In recent years agricultural investments have increased significantly in a number of ASEAN countries. Investment is needed to improve and increase production, and therefore should be welcomed. However, it is important that governments create a proper regulatory framework that protects small farmers against exploitation and also protects agricultural labourers and the environment. Investment that works with smallholder farmers on their own land is preferred over large land acquisitions that dislocate farmers.

As general recommendations, participants called on ministers to put in place effective monitoring mechanisms and inter-ministerial coordination for the implementation of the ASEAN Integrated Food Security (AIFS) Framework 2015-2020, which they are expected to adopt during their meeting. Finally, they called for enhanced involvement of civil society organisations in policy discussions at both the national and regional level. Together, we would like to work toward a food-secure ASEAN region.

BIO: Ohnmar Khaing is coordinator of the Food Security Working Group, Shwe Thein is chair of the Land Core Group, Marlene Ramirez is executive director of AsiaDHRRA and Esther Penunia is secretary general of the Asian Farmers Association for Sustainable Rural Development.

SOURCE: Myanmar Times

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