Press Release by World  Vegetable Center.

Representatives from nine member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) got a closer look at the horticultural practices and policies of Taiwan during the 12th Steering Committee Meeting of the ASEAN-AVRDC Regional Network for Vegetable Research and Development (AARNET), held 23-25 May 2017 at World Vegetable Center headquarters.

ASEAN cooperation in agriculture dates back as early as 1968, with the start of joint activities in food production and supply. AARNET, which has been active since 1998, was established to foster partnerships to address opportunities for vegetable research and development in Southeast Asia, a region with a population of 625 million people. Agriculture is a key engine of regional economic growth, and although several ASEAN countries rank as top global exporters in products such as rice, fruit, vegetables and coffee, the region is challenged by issues such as availability of adapted seed, plant pests and diseases, malnutrition, food safety and distribution.

On the 23rd, WorldVeg Director General Marco Wopereis welcomed 13 AARNET participants from Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam and encouraged them to use the network as a tool for progress. Taiwan’s ‘Southbound Strategy’ aims to develop stronger links with ASEAN countries, he said, and AARNET is in an excellent position to benefit from Taiwan’s expertise in vegetable production and marketing.

AARNET Chair Leong Hon Keong from Singapore officially opened the meeting, and his address was followed by an introduction to the World Vegetable Center delivered by Maureen Mecozzi, Head of Communications. Fenton Beed, WorldVeg Regional Director for East and Southeast Asia, gave an overview of agriculture in the region. WorldVeg Deputy Director General – Research David Johnson introduced the Center’s new operational plan, and flagship leaders Peter Hanson and Srinivasan Ramasamy discussed activities in germplasm management, breeding, pest protection, and value chain development.

Haji Hamdam Fuziah presented the perspective of Brunei Darussalam, which is pursuing a policy of foreign direct investment to boost its agriculture sector. In Cambodia, nearly 70% of the workforce is involved in agriculture, Man Sotheavy told the group; the country plans to provide low-cost loans for vegetable production and use direct marketing campaigns to increase consumption and improve nutrition.

Indonesia’s representative, Catur Hermanto, discussed volatility in chili prices and practices to control chili pests and diseases including pheromone traps, border crops, and screenhouse cultivation. Bounnueng Douangboupha noted the ongoing efforts in Lao PDR to collect and conserve more than 150 local accessions of yard-long bean. In Malaysia, domestic demand for vegetables is increasing at 4.5% annually, said Pauziah Muda; improvements in productivity and reductions in postharvest losses can help meet that demand.

Cecilia Mallari spoke about efforts in the Philippines to strengthen its vegetable sector, which include new planting calendars adjusted for climate change, incentives for the use of composting, and use of natural fertilizers and botanicals, and promotion of school gardens, agriculture courses and agri-entrepreneur programs. Although Singapore imports 90% of its food, the country has 50 working vegetable farms and seeks to develop highly intensive, technologically sophisticated production methods to supplement imports, said Poh Bee Ling.  In Thailand, the government aims to develop area-based production to better integrate management among relevant agencies, and to allow for more efficient farm and supply chains, said Grisana Linwattana; the country also aims to increase organic production by 10% each year. Vietnam’s vegetable production is constrained by dependence on imported seed (80%), Nguyen Quoc Hung explained; the country is investing in local breeding and protected cultivation initiatives.

A full day of field visits showcasing Taiwan agriculture engaged participants on the 24th, organized with the help of Denise Fang, Director, Council of Agriculture Crop Production Division. At the Yunlin Organic Vegetable Farm, galvanized steel frame plastic greenhouses built to withstand typhoon winds sheltered beds of thriving leafy greens including amaranth and kangkong. To address the disruption of vegetable supplies after typhoons, the Taiwan government is offering financial incentives for farmers to upgrade their production facilities. The Han Kuan Cooperative in Siluo vertically integrates vegetable production and marketing for its 263 members and is now one of the largest producers in the country. Members receive support in the selection of crops and proper use of inputs. The co-op picks up produce at each farm and delivers it to the main packing house, which has four packing stations and 22 processing lines to bag and bar-code the produce; all Han Kuan products are traceable. Han Kuan Chairman Liao Ting-Chuan graciously treated the group to a delicious lunch in the company dining room.

At the Taiwan Agricultural Chemical & Toxic Substances Research Institute (TACTRI) in Wufung, Director General Fei Wen-chi explained TACTRI’s ‘pesticide portal’, diagnostic centers for farmers, sampling procedures for pesticide residue analysis, and biopesticide research. The busy day concluded with a visit to the Taiwan Agricultural Research Institute (TARI) in Taichung, where Director General J.J. Chen (who also serves as Chair of the World Vegetable Center Board of Directors) gave an overview of TARI’s many research activities encompassing soil analysis, variety development, rapid pesticide detection, and advanced protected cultivation structures and practices. TARI makes extensive use of digital maps and satellite imagery to analyze soil fertility, monitor crop distribution and track other aspects of land use for planning, crop insurance and other purposes.

The last day of the meeting began with a morning visit to Canaan Land Farm, which has been following organic and biodynamic production practices for the past ten years. The farm uses carbonized rice husks and wood vinegar to control pests and diseases, and makes ‘bokashi’—a mixture of rice husks and beneficial microbes (EM, or effective microorganisms) left to ferment in sealed barrels under anaerobic conditions—to enrich the soil. Pink-colored netting covering the farm’s screenhouses helps repel insects, which are not attracted to the pink/purple portion of the light spectrum. At the Tainan District Agricultural Research and Experiment Station, the participants toured an advanced greenhouse developed in conjunction with Wageningen University, the Netherlands’ premier agricultural education institution.

Excited by all that they had experienced, the participants returned to the WorldVeg campus to discuss how to move forward through AARNET. During a roundtable facilitated by Marco and David, the group explored topics for future collaboration and decided on three: germplasm development for climate resilience, protected cultivation, and biopesticides. Mechanisms to carry out collaboration were discussed, including task forces, group training, exchanges and scholarships. Ways for AARNET to fund its activities and communicate its efforts were also explored. AARNET plans to hold its next meeting in March 2018.

Photo: Matthew Beckler (CC BY-SA 2.0)