This week at the World Economic Forum on East Asia in Myanmar, global and regional leaders explore ways to accelerate sustainable agricultural growth and achieve food security in South-East Asia.

Agriculture has been an engine for robust economic growth and development in South-East Asia, lifting millions out of poverty and positioning the region as a critical source for global food security. Home to 600 million people, the region has considerable precious resources and a strong rural workforce, yet continues to suffer from hunger and malnutrition, which affect a significant portion of its society, many of them farmers. Today the region faces new threats to meet growing demand, with risks from natural resource scarcity, shocks from food price volatility and effects from climate change.

Agriculture has never been more important. It can provide nutritious and environmentally sustainable food to eat for everyone on the planet. With farmers at the core, agriculture can transform itself from an environmental threat into a major contributor of its preservation, as a burden on poor households to an income generating business, and from a mere source of calories to providing nutritious food for all.

But farmers cannot do it alone. As a business, farming requires investment, knowledge, tools and above all a voice at the table. With an average farm size of less than 2 hectares of land, South-East Asia’s agriculture is produced primarily by smallholder farmers, many of whom are women. Policies and market-driven approaches that enable innovation, support farmers’ organizations, empower and educate women farmers, address property rights and deliver responsible and well-targeted investments to the agriculture sector can promise real change.

The World Economic Forum’s New Vision for Agriculture initiative is an example of a global platform which facilitates new models of public-private collaboration to realize a vision of agriculture as a driver of food security, environmental sustainability and economic opportunity. The initiative supports innovative partnerships in Vietnam and Indonesia where national and local governments are working together with the private sector, international organizations, civil society and farmers to strengthen value-chains to improve productivity, quality and competitiveness and to provide economic opportunities to farmers in their countries.

An unprecedented effort is required from every actor – government, industry, civil society and experts – to actively work together as partners with a common goal to achieve scalable impact and eliminate hunger.

Author: Tania Tanvir is a Senior Project Manager for the Forum’s New Vision for Agriculture initiative; and Council Manager of the Global Agenda Council on Food Security

 Image: Farmers work on a paddy field in Yangon REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun