Q&A with Kavita Prakash-Mani, Executive Director for Grow Asia – Sustainability, Let’s Talk
Kavita Prakash-Mani is the Executive Director for Grow Asia. Grow Asia is a bold initiative and organisation. They encompass a formidable Asia-Pacific team (based in Singapore), convened by the World Economic Forum in partnership with the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Secretariat. With thanks to Kavita who recently shared her experience and the incredible task of leading the Grow Asia team, as part of the #sustainabilityletstalk15 initiative.
Grow Asia’s focus – food security and agriculture in ASEAN. The aim is to enable development of environmentally sustainable and inclusive agriculture through engaging multi- stakeholder partnerships and scalable solutions. Food security and agriculture is an important focus for South-East Asia due to the complexity of the agribusiness supply value chain within the region combined with smallholder famers, business requirements and government intervention, together with the environmental and social issues at stake.
Grow Asia do this by facilitating multi-stakeholder partnerships, catalyze investment, and monitor impact within the region, with the ultimate goal of enabling inclusive development of smallholder farmers, environmental sustainability and agriculture for the region. Grow Asia’s legal entity commenced in Singapore early 2015 to facilitate and strengthen country-led initiatives, and is already making strong inroads across ASEAN through the originally established Partnership for Sustainable Agriculture in Vietnam since 2010, the Partnership for Indonesia’s Sustainable Agriculture (PISAgro) since 2011, Myanmar Agriculture Network since 2013 and Philippines Partnership for Sustainable Agriculture since April 2015.
My biggest takeaway from our conversation, it is exciting and humbling to see an initiative this bold and to this scale take place in South-East Asia. As Kavita and I discussed, there is minimal strategic oversight and gathering of key stakeholders to challenge and problem solve large-scale sustainable issues, therefore it is great to see this being tackled on a grand scale.
To set the scene, consider ASEAN’s population of 600 million people. More than half of that population live in rural areas and rely on agriculture for their livelihood. Farmers are often ‘smallholders’ operating in the region, farming on less than 2 hectares of land. They have low productivity and face challenging conditions, not to mention environmental and social impacts that occur within the region. There are about 100 million smallholders operating within the region, of which they produce more than 70% of food for South-East Asia.
Q: WHAT DOES SUSTAINABILITY MEAN FOR BOTH GROW ASIA AND ITS PARTNERSHIP STAKEHOLDERS? HOW DOES THIS IMPACT ON SMALLHOLDERS?
Our aim is by 2020 to enable 10 million smallholder farmers (that is 10% of the total smallholder farmer population for South-East Asia), to be 20 % more profitable, productive and environmentally sustainable.
Whilst our key focus is agribusiness sustainable development in the region, we have a broad approach to inclusive social and economic development.
What we are seeing with smallholders increasingly, productivity is decreasing whilst there is less access to the resources they require to maintain successful production. The challenge with this is they produce more than 70% of our food in South-East Asia.
We focus on our three pillars of productivity, profitability and environmental sustainability when working through the aspects with all the players (all stakeholders including community, small farmers, government, business leaders and supporting industries of financial, legal, research and development, to name a few); on how the smallholders can increase their productivity by using technology and knowledge of the best farming practices.
To give one example how this impacts agribusiness in South-East Asia, simply by engaging the right support for the smallholders and improving farming practices, smallholders are able to operate with sound environmental sustainability techniques, which subsequently increase productivity and quality.
Q: WHAT KIND OF CHALLENGES DO AGRIBUSINESS AND THE PARTNERSHIPS COME ACROSS IN REGARDS TO SUSTAINABILITY?
- Grow Asia know and understand why partnerships are important
- When aiming for long-term change, we need to focus on changing the system
- In this regards trust is a challenge, where we work to explain the ‘Why, what is the benefit?’
Time and Resources
- Currently many of the agribusiness players are delivering to short-term models goals
- We need to have the ability to think and move beyond this
- The right people are needed with commitment that is translatable to long-term initiatives, into the right action on the ground
- We have a complex value chain
- Everyone has a vested interest in the outcomes
- Sheer scale of managing this is phenomenal
Role of Leaders (Government, Organisations, all players involved)
- Anyone who has influence in this area, they need to stand for these partnerships and foster better relationships and collaboration
- For example, when a Minister of Agriculture speaks up for the need of agriculture development in their country and for problem solving through partnership, it enables strong collaboration
Q: HOW INTEGRAL IS SUSTAINABILITY TO THE PARTNERSHIP STRATEGY?
For me it is in reverse, partnerships are integral to sustainable driven outcomes.
The impacts we are working to achieve with all the players will not be possible without partnership and action. In this sense it is integral.
Q: WHAT ARE FIVE WORDS THAT MAKE YOU THINK OF SUSTAINABILITY?
- Security: resource security related to food supply, this includes water sources for example
- Inclusivity and choice: there are a lot of have and haves not. This is about inclusivity for all, including the environment and ensuring that people have a choice
- Economic Drivers: to enable the creation of opportunities
- Access: this means everything from environmental and water access. We have to consider water access and its management, as eventually in the future water will be driving migration and food security within the region
- Risk Sharing: Sharing of risk across all parties involved, rather than risk placed exclusively on one party.
Tagged agribusiness, Boards, Business Leaders, Communication, Corporate Social Responsibility, CSR, Duty of care, Engagement, Ethical conduct, Leadership, Stakeholders, Sustainability, Transformational change, Transparency