DAVOS, SWITZERLAND - As Executive Director of Grow Asia, I was fortunate to attend the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland for the first time. This year’s event hosted over 3,000 attendees and multiple concurrent sessions and keynote speeches. Over three busy days of conversations and meetings, several macro themes emerged: the power of multi-stakeholder partnership, preparing for the fourth industrial revolution, and the need to accelerate change and scale up impact through digital platforms. The conversations were robust and exciting, focusing on often-ambitious visions for the future.
The main draw of Davos is the quantity and quality of the meetings. I attended two group meetings focused on the World Economic Forum’s New Vision for Agriculture (NVA) and additional bilateral meetings with government officials, agribusiness representatives and Grow Asia donors. These meetings were truly “learning conversations,” in which all parties left wiser than they started.
My first meeting was a series of round table discussions on inclusive business models, with two tables focused specifically on Grow Asia’s work. I sat at a table along with the Prime Minister of Cambodia, two Minsters of Trade and Commerce (Cambodia and the Philippines), and senior executives from major multinational corporations and non-government organizations. We discussed inclusive business models and identified the increasing demand for agricultural processing, value- addition post-harvest and export markets that help to bring smallholders into the formal agribusiness sector. Given the increasing urbanization and economic growth in the region, all participants agreed that the importance of agribusiness to farming will continue to increase.
Digital to disrupt standard business models
These discussions allowed us to explore the opportunities provided by digital platforms to disrupt standard business models. The group gave several examples of technologies that are already beginning to enable crowd-sourced financing for farmers, information sharing on new technologies and improved agronomic techniques. The all-round consensus was that digital platforms will form the core for future sustainable business models by enabling multiple individual transactions between producers and off-takers, facilitating traceability and opening new avenues for aggregation and coordination.
The outcomes from the group discussions and bilateral meetings further galvanized my enthusiasm for the launch of the new Grow Asia digital platform, mFarmer, which we are rolling out in collaboration with several partners and currently the work is being spearheaded by Unilever. Designed to become a regional hub for digital farming solutions, mFarmer will provide a shared platform for information such as prices, market intelligence and sharing of best practices. Individual companies will be able to host their own applications on the platform to address smallholders’ future needs.
Responding to the Sustainable Development Goals and smallholders’ needs
The second meeting focused on how the NVA could best respond to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This event saw the presentation of quick-fire reports on progressing specific elements of the SDGs, followed by breakout groups each tasked with identifying one practical action for the NVA to achieve these goals. I joined a group focused on policy action and the key takeaway was a strong endorsement of Public-Private-Producer dialogues, which are at the core of Grow Asia’s approach.
I also had the opportunity to meet individually with government representatives, including ministers of Trade and Commerce, to discuss ways in which they can bring additional profitable market opportunities to small scale producers. There was a keen interest in promoting higher value products to attract new investments and greater earning potential. In addition to food products currently being produced in their countries, they are exploring innovations such as producing bamboo as a raw material, bio-energy, nutraceuticals, food supplements and even cosmetic products.
Moving from “why” to “how”
Clearly, the challenges facing South East Asia were also considered and discussed, but hearing shared learnings from the field and details of practical solutions designed to address these challenges was both encouraging and inspiring. The region is experiencing massive growth and change, so we must now focus on moving from identifying why these challenges exist to how we can work together with our partners to create the right environment and projects to enable continued progress.
Executive Director, Grow Asia