The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states are rich in agricultural land and major exporters of agricultural and forestry products such as food, cash and medicinal crops. Private sector investment is widespread in the region, including by major ASEAN multinational enterprises (MNEs) and agribusiness MNEs from across the world. Private sector investment can be directly managed (e.g. farms and plantation), indirect (e.g. contract farming) or a combination of the two.
The region’s Food, Agricultural and Forestry (FAF) sector is set to become even more critical over the next few decades. As the demand for food increases due to a growing population (the region’s population will hit 800 million in the 2050s), rising incomes, and urbanization in the 10 countries that make up the ASEAN agriculture will continue to attract foreign and domestic investment, particularly in developing regions. Increased investment in food, agriculture and forestry in the ASEAN region is needed to help achieve food and nutrition security, improve food safety, and create economic growth and opportunities.
Attracting investment that contributes to food security and economic growth, while at the same time conserving the environment, especially in the context of climate change, is in practice very complex and requires smart and effective government intervention.
Investment in FAF needs to be responsible and sustainable, and specifically directed towards the achievement of social, economic and environmental benefits, while minimizing negative impacts. The ultimate responsibility for achieving such an outcome rests with governments and policymakers, but investors and civil society also play a key role.
In September 2017, the ASEAN Ministers on Agriculture and Forestry (AMAF) agreed to develop the ASEAN Guidelines on Promoting Responsible Investment in Food, Agriculture and Forestry (the “Guidelines”) at their 39th annual meeting. The Guidelines are grounded in the Committee on World Food Security, Principles for Responsible Agriculture and Food Systems (CFS-RAI) and reflect the specificities and characteristics of ASEAN Member States (AMS). The ASEAN Guidelines were adopted by AMAF in October 2018.
The Guidelines are part of a broad range of initiatives aimed at ensuring that investments in agriculture meet global standards and promote responsible and sustainable investment. In addition, ASEAN has already begun a systematic process to adhere to global standards, for example with the adoption of the Vision & Strategic Plan for Food, Agriculture & Forestry (2016); the related four Strategic Plans of Action for FAF; the Regional Guidelines on Food Security & Nutrition Policy (2017), and the PPP Regional Framework for Technology Development in FAF (2017).
Purpose of the Guidelines
The primary purpose of the Guidelines is to promote investment in food, agriculture and forestry in the ASEAN region that contributes to regional economic development, food and nutrition security, food safety and equitable benefits, as well as the sustainable use of natural resources. The Guidelines distil the global best practices for ensuring that larger scale agribusiness investments are socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable and inclusive. It provides future partners of such investments - from the public, private and civil society sectors - a roadmap of the important ingredients in such future investments. The Guidelines aim to become the de facto foundation of these type of agricultural investments across the region. Other objectives include:
The Guidelines are voluntary in nature and are designed not to conflict with existing national laws and regulations or with binding international treaties. They do not replace the need for improved legal and policy frameworks at the national level. A stronger and more equitable regulatory environment at the national level is a crucial component of achieving social, economic and environmental benefits from investment.