SAVAR CITY, BANGLADESH — Greater support and opportunities for small farmers in the Philippines and Asia are needed to enable agriculture workers to take part in the growth process, according to the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA)

Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan made this statement in a video message for the 8th International Conference of the Asian Society of Agricultural Economists (ASAE) at the BRAC Center for Development, Savar, Bangladesh on October 15, 2014.

Balisacan said that despite their size, the importance of small farms cannot be overlooked, as countries in Asia are among those with an overwhelming panorama of small farms. The latest statistics from the World Census of Agriculture reported that 90 percent of about 428 million agricultural landholdings in Asia are small farms, which are less than two hectares in area.

“In Asia, which is home to around 4.4 billion people, including two-thirds of the world’s undernourished, majority of people living in poverty rely on these small farms for food. Thus, potentially, further development of the agriculture sector, specifically the small farms that constitute it, could redound to rural welfare improvement and poverty alleviation,” said Balisacan, who is also NEDA Director-General and ASAE President.

He also noted that although the role of agricultural performance in reducing rural poverty may be less clear today that it was during the Green Revolution period, there are remaining areas for policy interventions that can strengthen smallholders’ agricultural performance for them to continue their role as backbone of rural economies and key vehicle for more rapid poverty reduction.

“Smallholders are not a homogeneous group. Some of them have the potentials to improve production performance and be transformed into commercially-oriented and profitable farming systems. These smallholder farmers need a policy environment that would support and nurture this transformation and help them overcome the challenges they face,” he said.

Balisacan added that small farms are the major sources of raw materials for agribusiness and manufacturing industries and that agricultural commodities geared for exports are good sources of foreign exchange earnings to finance capital accumulation needed for industrialization. “As the economy goes through an industrialization process, agricultural workers, especially during off-planting and harvesting seasons, are often employed in other sectors as contractual or part-time workers. And as agriculture modernizes and links with the industry and services sectors to increase value adding in agricultural production, more remunerative jobs are created. The range of products and services becomes wider, and markets expand,” Balisacan explained.

Balisacan recommended policy levers to further develop the initial conditions that would facilitate pro-poor growth.

“Interventions should be focused in improving farm productivity, especially in areas where topography is not conducive to agriculture. It is also very important to facilitate the linkage of smallholders to supply chains and markets and overcome the threat of climate change,” he said.

Balisacan also cited that agricultural investments in adaptation to help farmers improve land management, adjust their planting dates, and introduce new crop varieties are increasingly becoming important.

“The increasing complexity and diversity of the environment in which smallholders now exist would not warrant a single policy, but rather a mix of interventions. What is important is that these interventions holistically address the needs of the poor in the agricultural sector and expands opportunities for smallholders to take part in the growth process,” Balisacan concluded.

The ASAE International Conference is conducted every three years, and participated in by agricultural economists, development practitioners, policymakers, academicians, researchers, and students from all over the world. The 2014 Conference intended to address issues on wages, constraints in agricultural investment, adoption of improved technologies and productivity, and public policies to address constraints of small farms in Asia.

Director Mercedita A. Sombilla of the NEDA Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environment Staff also attended the conference and is also a member of the ASAE Secretariat.