Food, agribusiness, and forestry (FAF) sectors are among the most critical for ASEAN economies, with the sector accounting for 12% of the overall regional ASEAN GDP. The recent report – Asian Web: Tracking Regional Financial Flows – by Fair Finance Asia and Profundo, further highlights how important the agribusiness sector is in particular by tracking the amount of financing it receives with “financial institutions from ASEAN countries providing US$45 billion in loans and underwriting services to selected agriculture companies, which were active in their own economies, as well as towards other ASEAN countries”. However, the sector is often mired with challenges, given its heavy reliance on complex value chains that are strongly linked with the region’s marginalized communities, particularly women, landless farmers, and smallholders. Therefore, a regionally coordinated multi-stakeholder approach to ensuring responsible investments towards food, agribusiness, and forestry in the ASEAN is implemented.
In this context, Fair Finance Asia (FFA) seeks to actively engage with likeminded stakeholders working to accelerate the implementation of responsible cross-border investment policies and practices with a focus on key sectors, and in line with internationally recognized sustainable finance standards. Thus in 2020, FFA began exploring potential engagement with Grow Asia which is a multi-stakeholder partnership platform that brings together farmers, governments, the private sector, NGOs and other stakeholders in Southeast Asia to lift the productivity, profitability and environmental sustainability of smallholder agriculture in the region.
On November 5, 2020, FFA coalitions network together with representatives from Grow Asia and International Institute for Sustainable Development, Erin Sweeney, Manager of Sustainable Busines and Investment, Grow Asia, and Sarah Brewin, International Law Advisor, Agriculture & Investment, International Institute for Sustainable Development conducted a first dialogue to identify key convergences between our workstreams. The focus of the discussion was the regionally-adopted framework – ASEAN Guidelines for Promoting Responsible Investment in Food, Agriculture and Forestry, ‘ASEAN RAI’ – that has been developed to guide responsible investments in the food, agriculture and forestry sectors. These guidelines are designed to help ensure that “investments in agriculture meet global standards and promote responsible and sustainable development”, and endeavors to provide future partners of such investments – from the public, private and civil society sectors – a roadmap for future investments. As seen in their website, “The ASEAN RAI Guidelines were conceptualized in September 2017, when the ASEAN Ministers on Agriculture and Forestry (AMAF) agreed to develop such a framework. 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.” These Guidelines are prepared for the ASEAN Secretariat with the technical support of the International Institute for Sustainable Development, made possible by the financial support of Grow Asia and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.