Who's growing tomorrow's food?

Published on Friday, 03 July 2015

Published by Yasmin Siddiqi on Friday, 03 July 2015

The average age of a Filipino farmer is now 57.
The average age of a Filipino farmer is now 57.

With a rapidly growing population in Asia and rising demand for drinking water, power, and food the competition for water resources is huge.

In the region,  80% of water is used for irrigation, 37 of 49 countries  are already water insecure, according to the Asian Water Development Outlook 2013. In the face of these competing demands and challenges, agriculture will need to produce 60% more food globally by 2050, and 100% more in developing countries, with diminishing water resources.

In short, the future challenge is how to grow more food with less water.

Small-scale family farmers feed 70% of the world’s population, and a majority of them are in Asia and Pacific. The United Nations declared 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming to recognize the significant contribution of small-scale farmers in feeding the world.

However, farming is almost an endangered profession, with many moving from the country to cities for better work opportunities. The average age of Thai farmers is now 54, 57 for Filipino farmers, and almost 66 for Japanese farmers . Young people don’t want to become low-income and are searching in urban areas for jobs that pay better, require less heavy labor, and are considered more dignified or prestigious. Young people also have less access to land and other forms of capital to invest in productive farming, and may not have skills in advanced agricultural techniques. This again makes working on the land a less attractive option. And even more importantly, the production costs of farming are high, but the generated income is generally low.

So the challenges we face in the Asia-Pacific region are two-fold.

Population growth and rapid urbanization are placing increasing pressure on available water resources.

Second, as young people are moving away from farms, farmers are aging, and many of those left behind are women.  These changes are only slowly being recognized, and it’s hard to imagine how to manage future food production unless there are more benefits to continue working the land.

In the Philippines we have the rare case of Ana, a young farmer who decided to stay and face the challenges, following in her parents’ footsteps to become a farmer. And not any farmer. After receiving training from an NGO and fellow farmer Jon Sarmiento, Ana converted her family farm into an integrated, diversified, organic farming system including a fishpond, vegetable garden and free range chickens. She also an activist, and joined the Asian Farmers Association to discuss how to lower the barriers for the youth to enter farming.

Ana is a positive exception, but the challenges remain. This is why ADB invites citizens of any ADB member country between the ages of 18 to 25 to produce a 3-minute video on the topic "Who's growing tomorrow's food?” The video will be shared at ADB’s upcoming Second Asian Irrigation Forum, when experts and representatives from the Asia-Pacific region will debate on how we can tackle water and food security in the future.

Join us in the competition, and share your ideas on the challenges and possible solutions.