Knowledge-Based Food Systems for Economic Development in Asia: The Four Pillars of Growth
This post is written by Dr Babar Bajwa, senior regional director of the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI) Asia.
The world faces immense challenges in food production and availability. The prime attributes of a food system are its quality, affordability and economic sustainability. Food availability, affordability and economic growth have now become a focus of attention for the governments of many developing countries.
Connecting agri-food systems with research-backed knowledge — and environment friendly technologies — is used to spur agriculture-led economic growth. Knowledge and research are the cornerstones of any agri-food system and drive the efficiency of food production, domestic consumption and opportunities for industrialization and enhance agri-food value chain development for larger economic benefits.
It has long been perceived that since most Asian countries have rich resources and ample ingredients, food production will continue not only to feed the local population but also will generate surplus food for export.
However, the time has come to prioritize the attainment of a successful food system that can withstand the shocks of demand and supply, provide impetus to industrial growth and contribute to the economic stability of the country. The modern agro-based food systems have, accordingly, built strategies to shift towards economic growth-driven food systems.
The majority of Asian countries have land ownership dominated by small holders who, with very limited access to resources, farm with improved decision-making and capacity to function as transformers in the food system.
In addition to this, environmental conditions and soil (as a basic unit of production) bring new challenges. We never thought 50 years ago that we will be dealing with such a complex interface of biotic and abiotic factors – which will need a very complex, intensive, scientific and, above all, coordinated and interdependent approach to address these challenges.
The four ‘pillars of growth’
To focus on the knowledge based agri-food system or economy, there are four basic pillars of growth required based on objectivity, capacity, sustainability and impact.
Pillar 1: Objectivity. The goal of the research system and the outcomes expected from the system — for example, yield growth, water saving, innovations in cropping, industrial growth or subsistence farming.
Pillar 2: Capacity. The system’s capacity to deliver its objectives in terms of approach, thinking, agility and planning. Without the right approach, focus and agility, resources will be wasted.
Pillar 3: Sustainability. Built-in strategic research plans that are able to support the agri-food system to compete and sustain financially, are crucial. If the system is not market driven, where research organizations can compete and secure grants and are repeatedly given funding on the basis of performance (repeat customers), it will be very hard to expect concrete outcomes.
Pillar 4: Impact. The research system’s access to knowledge, innovative solutions and problem-solving models needs to be available to the teams and researchers who can really apply minds and bring out technologies which will be market-ready and fulfill industrial demands through problem-solving and support/promotion of investments. Without the trust of an industry/private sector/commercial companies, it becomes very difficult for a research system to innovate and create an economic impact for a robust agri-food system.
The four pillars define the basic architecture that gives research organizations a clear vision, so that strategies can be based on strategic goals. However, the main challenge is in the implementation.
In this regard, national and international alliances play very important roles. The research system needs to have strong coordination with various in-country research outfits and with known international scientific research setups.
Without effective linkages and coordination, continuous skill development and technology transfer is difficult to achieve. These linkages are an effective means to deliver innovation and to create the kind of scientific impact needed for a modern agri-food system to generate both scientific and economic impact.
Once these linkages are established and coordinated, it becomes possible to start an objective-based program that can produce results. The management can then establish several robust delivery mechanisms which will help the research system to operate efficiently and to generate efficiency.
The right research strategy
A robust and defined strategy is important to define the objectives, capacity and sustainability as a first step or starting point. This strategy must be defined as below:
- Defining the goals of the research system in agriculture. Goals must be clear and well-aligned to a country’s economic vision for the next 10 years — as an emerging scientific and research-based economy in the field of agriculture — as well as linked with international trends and practices.
- Defining the objectives of the national research system: This should be based on knowledge, innovation and economic impact and deliver innovative solutions for farmers. Problem-solving models should be used to encourage new technologies. These will be market-ready and fulfill the industrial demands through problem-solving and the promotion of investments.
- Developing a sustainability roadmap for the research system to deliver strategic plans. This will be able to compete and sustain financially with a defined window of financial inputs as a challenging and competitive model. This aims to equally benefit the receipt and disbursement of research grants well tied-up with relevant stakeholders of the sector (private sector, international institutions and governments).
Only an efficient, trustful and reliable research system will win the confidence of the farmers, processors, exporters and foreign investors for a knowledge based agri-food system, essentially required for economic growth.
Dr. Babar Bajwa has over 20 years experience as a post-harvest technologist and good agricultural practices expert. This includes intensive experience as an agribusiness specialist with extensive and diversified experience in the areas of food safety, sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures, post-harvest, agribusiness, supply chain development, trade and investment promotion. He has also worked for developing agricultural markets through trade promotions and bilateral negotiations and has published research in more than 20 peer-reviewed journals. He is a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Cochran fellow, an Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research (ACIAR) John Dillion fellow and an alumni of the U.S. State Department's International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP).