31 August 2019
Traditional farming still underpins advances in Asian food industry
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Over the last 20 or 30 years the food industry in south-east Asia has advanced greatly.  As well as responding, as it must, to fundamental structural necessities and cultural trends, the new food systems has ultimately changed society within south east Asia as a whole. But as much as technological improvements are heralding a new social setup it must be remembered that behind the fancy headlines, traditional farming, eating and marketing is still very much alive and kicking.

Beneath the new technology

As visitors to Asia, we first see the high technology of the big cities. As trading partners, we experience new high-quality products whose standards are in line with western standards. Sometimes it seems Asia has modernised beyond recognition in an attempt to keep up with new technological advances. This is not just about smart phones, stylish new computers and trendy games. The great advances in the 21st century has brought with it the ability to ensure we eat only the most nutritious foods, grow crops and nurture farm animals in the most efficient and budget conscious way while keeping a keen eye on the needs of sustainability.

Greater variety and better standards

For countries wishing to enhance fundamental standards in the food industry, attain new wealth and become real contenders on the global market, this has to be a good thing.  Consumers as well are seeing more variety in the products they buy, a baseline in safe healthy food and a knowledge that the food has been produced in a safe and an eco-conscious way.

Food production still relies heavily on the rural homestead

However, while this growth is definitely changing the very infrastructure of society in Asia, the advances being made are relatively slow. Although there is strong motivation to take on board new ways of production buying and eating, the traditional models which rely on rural work, small homesteads, and market selling remain very much the staple way of living. These old ways of production are still the mechanisms which provide for the home population and oil the mechanisms of bigger commercial business.

In the majority of south-east Asian countries, especially Cambodia and Vietnam, the land is rural, so old traditional farming methods and markets (such as wet markets) continue, but that is not to say modern retail methods and production are not creeping in. Also, foreign businesses (such as fast food chains and supermarkets) are also gaining a foothold. The more modern approach tends to be in cities and urban areas.

New structures for new times

In Singapore, 90% of the food supply is imported. Consequently, there isn’t the mechanism for creating produce for the food chain. So called “wet markets” are still very popular in Singapore. (They are called wet markets because the traders clean the fresh produce they have for sale before presenting them to the public. Thus, the ground is very wet where the produce has been cleaned.). However, on the whole, modern food retail is becoming the norm.

Countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines have been quick to move with the times. But it has meant an enormous shift for many. For instance, for the new technology to be taken on board, it has meant a new employment structure, good education for both workers and consumers, revisiting exports and imports and a new-found wealth which is continuing to impact on society and culture as a whole.

Traditional farming methods catch up with technology

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South east Asia remains the biggest exporter of rice. Originally, the produce of the smallholder there has definitely been a shift towards commercial agriculture as the demand for rice has increased across the globe. The same can be said for fishing in the region. Traditionally, the produce of the smallholder farmer, there is now a substantial aquaculture. Demand has also necessitated the production of coffee and rubber to take place in large scale plantations.

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