The modernisation of farm-to-market supply chains is important for increasing farmers' income, alleviating poverty, cutting food waste and improving the affordability of food staples, according to the authors of a book.
The Quiet Revolution in Staple Food Value Chains: Enter the Dragon, the Elephant, and the Tiger is a joint project by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) that was launched last month.
The book examines the movement of rice and potatoes from the farm to the consumer — known as the 'value chain' — in three Asian countries: Bangladesh, China and India. Rice and potato are food staples in Asia.
Thomas Reardon, a professor in the Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics at Michigan State University, United States, and one of the book's authors, says that the study also has lessons for South-East Asian and Pacific island states.
He says that all three countries have found ways to modernise the value chains of these staple crops. He adds that the changes had been introduced at the grassroots and brought about mainly by mobile phones, the use of improved crop varieties and technological changes related to rice milling and potato storage.
Reardon says the rapid rise of modern cold storage facilities for potatoes, which enable them to be supplied out of season, had led to more stable prices and higher incomes for farmers.
These facilities have also helped cut the amount of food wastage along the supply chain. According to a World Bank study which the authors cited between 30 per cent to 40 per cent of the food costs is due to the food wastage in the supply chain.
But wastage is not a significant problem, according to the ADB-IFPRI study.
The authors explain that the different stakeholders in the value chain have already tried to minimize the waste particularly helpful are the post-harvest facilities. They found that waste from farm harvest to retail sale in cities is only seven per cent for potatoes and up to two per cent for rice.
Meanwhile, the advent of mobile phones has allowed farmers to cut out traditional brokers or middlemen and deal directly with wholesalers, millers and even supermarkets and so get better profit margin for their produce, the researchers say.
In addition, the researchers found that rising labour costs have encouraged farm mechanisation, as well as the use of technologies such as improved seed varieties and herbicides to increase production and income to offset these increased costs.
They also found that investments in food supply technology are mainly led by the private sector with the role of government — apart from in India — being generally limited.
Lourdes Adriano, head of the ADB's Agriculture, Rural Development and Food Security Unit and another of the book's authors, says that governments must invest in food supply infrastructure and research to ensure affordable food for the more than seven billion people currently on the planet.
She says that research will be crucial to make crops and those involved in the food chain more resilient to climate change.