Technology and innovation can help Southeast Asian economies to promote food security, green development and social equity, experts said at a regional forum held May 12 in Jakarta.
Participants in the 2023 ASEAN Leadership and Partnership Forum also stressed the need for collaboration among various stakeholders across the region in addressing pressing issues. The two-day forum was held after the 42nd ASEAN summit at Labuan Bajo in eastern Indonesia. The forum’s theme, “ASEAN Matters — Centre of Growth, Opportunities & Prosperity”, was organized by the KSI Strategic Institute for Asia Pacific, the ASEAN Business Advisory Council, the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce & Industry (KADIN), the ASEAN Economic Club, and the Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia. It was supported by the Economic Club of Kuala Lumpur and the World Business Chamber.
Indonesia’s Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy Sandiaga Uno said the creative industry not only contributes to regional GDP but also creates jobs. Uno, who delivered a special address, said that in Indonesia, digital transformation, along with financial assistance to improve information and communication technology infrastructure, have helped boost the creative industry. Education reforms have helped nurture creative talent.
Albert Oung, executive council member and Green Economy chairperson of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific’s Sustainable Business Network, said innovative technological breakthroughs can help revitalize the ASEAN economy in the post-pandemic era.
“What we need to do is pick the right projects with the right formula and make it ASEAN,” Oung said in an interview held on the sidelines of the forum.
Ravindra Ngo, founder and CEO of Singapore-based think tank The Asian Network, said cooperation is one of the main themes of the forum. Ngo, who moderated the afternoon discussion on food security and climate sustainability, summed up one of the key points of the discussion: that stakeholders — including government, business and civil society — must collaborate to promote sustainable policies and practices to mitigate environmental risk and improve access for all.
“The three Ps — people, planet and profit — are not enough. We need to add purpose — the purpose to make and contribute to a better world,” Ngo said.
He said ASEAN also needs to use technologies and innovations, such as developing a climate-smart agriculture, that will help to make the shift towards agricultural and food systems that are “more resilient, sustainable and productive”.
Gavin Chong, president and chief strategy officer of agribusiness firm Gokomodo Indonesia, said the agriculture industry needs long-term solutions. One way to promote a sustainable agriculture sector is to make farming profitable, which would encourage the younger generations to venture into farming.
“How can we address that? Let's talk about prices on a monthly basis. Perhaps different associations representing various countries in ASEAN could have a dialogue on a monthly basis to talk about fertilizer prices as one example. Stay in touch on talking about price trends,” Chong said.
Joseph D’ Cruz, CEO of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, said discussions on agricultural sustainability must include diverse perspectives. In the case of the palm oil industry, D’ Cruz said that the challenge is how to build a sector that meets the demands of climate, sustainability and environmental preservation without sacrificing social development, livelihoods and providing a decent life for rural communities. He added that addressing these concerns also requires that addressing the challenge of providing food that is affordable and sustainable.
“It's not an easy question to answer, but I think if we come back to the policy questions we're discussing around food security and climate change and where ASEAN goes in the future, recognizing the need to build a way to look at these realistically from a systems perspective is absolutely critical,” he said.
Chhem Siriwat, an advisor for the Council for the Development of Cambodia, said in a panel discussion that digital transformation “is not just about technology, but it’s about change. It’s about a change in mindset, which will lead eventually to a change in behavior”.
He said the three main pillars of digital transformation are culture, workforce and technology, and described his experience in helping to craft a national digital technology transformation roadmap for Cambodia.
“We came up with three suggestions, the first being to appoint transformational leaders; to be a transformational leader, you have to be innovative, risk-taking,” he said. He added that it’s also important to invest in human resources and digital infrastructure.
Yohanes Lukiman, chairperson of KADIN’s Permanente Committee for Asia Pacific, said digital transformation can also support small and medium-sized enterprises, especially those in the informal economy. Lukiman, who is also the board member of the ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ABAC), said ABAC is promoting the use of QR codes as an alternative payment system.
“We know that there’s a huge informal economy in ASEAN and we also know that those in the informal economy can’t be paid by (conventional) digital means,” he said. The QR code program “will be a game changer in the digital economy,” Lukiman said.
“An Indonesian tourist can go to Pattaya (in Thailand) and buy food from a roadside vendor using his Indonesian e-wallet. MSMEs (micro, small and medium-sized enterprises) in the informal economy can adopt this QR code,” he said.