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Where to invest?
ASEAN is one of the most productive agricultural baskets in the world. In 2012, the region produced 129 million tons of rice, 40 million tons of corn, 171 million tons of sugarcane, 1.44 million tons of soybean, and 70.34 million tons of cassava. Rice production this year is forecast to increase by 3% to 132.87 million tons.
Rice exports, domestic utilization, and self-sufficiency ratio are all expected to increase in 2013. ASEAN is likely to increase exports to 18.28 million tons. While domestic utilization is projected to increase to 114.57 million from 113.04 million tons in 2012, self-sufficiency (production to domestic utilization) ratio is still assured at 116%.
Despite being leading producers of staple crops and food, most ASEAN countries are yet to reach their production boundaries. Investors, leveraging on the region’s balanced climate, fertile lands, and mix of lowlands and uplands, forests, rivers, and coastlines, are likely to find opportunities not just in crop and livestock production but also in managing food supply chain, agriculture infrastructure and safety, and agribusiness.
Investment space are expanding in terms of providing needed infrastructure to increase and climate-change-proof crop production, professionalizing and systematizing small-scale food processing, driving high-tech agribusiness, and other activities along the value chain.
Optimism is high on the growth of the agriculture sector in the region. The ASEAN region is home to around 600 million people while its main food markets, East Asia and South Asia, have populations of 1.6 billion people and around 1 billion people, respectively. A large chunk of these populations form part of the growing middle class with increased buying capacity and changing preference from food staples to high-value food whether organic or processed.
ASEAN can act as the supply base for its larger neighbors. The region’s proximity to world powers like China and Japan puts it in a very good position for supplying food and other perishable goods. As the region itself continues to rise together with Asia’s economic growth, intra-market trade of goods is also expected to rise.
Towards regional integration
The agricultural sector is off to reach its target for the ASEAN Economic Community in 2015 through increased efforts to ease trade between member states, allowing faster movement of perishable goods across long distances. The plan is to develop niche-based agriculture, and support it with reduction of trade barriers and construction of needed infrastructure.
Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia of the Great Mekong Sub-region, which have adequate water supply and lowland areas for tropical agriculture, have placed major emphasis on internal transportation routes to facilitate movement of agricultural and food supply. For instance, the Ital-Thai company is looking at a US$ 48 billion deep-sea port and special economic zone project in Dawei (Tavoy) that will ease the trade of goods from the east directly to the Indian Ocean.
In the Brunei-Malaysia-Indonesia-Philippines (BIMP) growth area, physical integration is as important. A Roll-On, Roll-Off (RORO) vessel service is set to start its service between Davao (Philippines) to Bitung (Indonesia) by the middle of 2013. The Philippines, Mindanao in particular, offers perfect agro-economic condition and several ideal areas for a wide range of crops. While Brunei, Indonesia, and Malaysia stand out as producers of industrial crops.
Region-wide, priority is given to the ASEAN Highway Network which involves upgrading of below Class III roads in designated Transit Transport Routes, and completion of the Singapore Kunming Rail Link which is intended to link seven ASEAN countries (Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Viet Nam, Myanmar, and Lao) to China.
ASEAN’s geography and climate are perfect for agriculture. Natural resources abound in this side of the world. Crop possibilities are endless. Find out the opportunities in agriculture production, post harvest processing, trade, and agribusiness.