As part of my Nuffield Farming Scholarship, I was selected to take part in a 6 week Global Focus Programme (GFP). The GFP is organised by Nuffield Australia, and takes you through 3 continents to learn and open your eyes to opportunities and markets across the world. The GFP will take me through Singapore, Philippines, Hong Kong, China, Germany, UK and the States visiting Washington DC and California.
Travelling in a group of 9 from 8 different countries, along with myself, there is Georgina from Kent, Eamon from Ireland, Rick from the Netherlands, Dan and Clair from Australia, Jason from New Zealand, Nicole from Canada and Thato from South Africa. I’ll get to know these guys very well over the next 6 weeks. Below is an update of the start of the travels through Singapore and the Philippines.
We landed in Singapore to start the first leg of the GFP through Asia. Singapore is an amazing country and was formed in 1964, it now has a population of 5.5 million people and is a country featuring almost no agriculture, just city. It has established itself as one of the biggest financial hubs in the world. Developing a huge port through the trading of commodities, it paves the way for access into Asia, with their most important market being China.
Despite Chinese growth slowing of late, the growth in South East Asia remains massive. As the countries through this region go through urbanisation and develop infrastructure and wealth, Singapore could play an even bigger part. The worrying aspect is that many companies we spoke with could see this region out competing Europe in the financial services sector in the future and following Brexit they are targeting more business that could be leaving London. With Singapore within the perfect time zone and area to deal with China, which will be the future power house of the world, this is an interesting ploy.
We met with Syngenta in their Asia Pacific office in Singapore, they spoke of their challenges and plans in the region to help farmers be environmentally sustainable and increase farm productivity. Although the economies of these countries are rapidly growing, agriculture is some way behind. With the rising population and the region’s food security always going to be their biggest issue, Syngenta’s plan to use technology through apps and smartphones to access small farmers is a great way to share knowledge and increase productivity whilst reducing environmental impact. Of the 450 million small holders through the region, 96% of farmers have a mobile phone, although currently only a low proportion of these are smartphones, this is figure should increase over time.
In the Philippines we visited the IRRI (Institute of Rice Research and Irrigation) at Los Banos, south of capital Manila. It was great to see the research that has gone into the processes of growing rice to target a more sustainable and environmentally friendly crop. Rice is a major contributor to preventing famine as it plays a huge part within the diets of the region’s population. Countries are able to thrive once food security has been assured and the IRRI have played a huge part in sorting this out.
It was very interesting to learn of the research into a high vitamin A Golden Rice that had been produced, which would dramatically reduce the occurrence of blindness in children as a result of their malnutrition. However, this rice isn’t being grown due to its GM brand and the people of the region have been influenced to think that GM is a terrible thing from the Western world- this didn’t make sense at all to me!
The IRRI have also looked into increasing the mechanisation of rice production on small scale farms; with average farm sizes in the Philippines at 0.25ha, mechanisation is difficult and many farmers have another form of employment as well. The IRRI’s aim wasn’t to increase rice production, but to make sure the farmer can survive on what they have if there was a drought or typhoon. We were lucky enough to have a go at the traditional methods of rice cultivation and planting which are still the methods many farms use today!
We visited a local rice farmer who farmed 7ha of rice, he was seen as a progressive farmer as he leased land from other farmers and was able to generate a greater income. He had some mechanised tools and he also employed about 20 staff; they formed a team to go around and cultivate and harvest crops for other farmers in the area. He was able to achieve 5.2t/ha on his summer crop and 3.7t/ha on his winter crop.
After cutting the rice, its put through a mechanical thresher, most of these workers had some fingers missing!
Rice is bagged and carried away manually in 60kg sacks.
During our time in Los Banos we were able to visit a local wet market. It was a great experience to witness this market but in 30˚C I certainly didn’t fancy the meat, especially with the butcher having a fag in his mouth whilst swinging his meat clever!
Now onto Hong Kong and China! Let’s see if there is an opportunity for the UK to have a slice of this expanding market!
Senior Dairy Specialist
Follow Iwan on Twitter @maesmochnant for live updates during his travels as a Nuffield Scholar.