Agricultural technology (agritech) is revolutionising farming in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). It involves using tech tools such as drones, sensors, apps, the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics, and more to improve efficiency and yield. Thus, boosting agritech in Southeast Asia could significantly end the food insecurity that has plagued the region for many years.

In the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2022 report compiled by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and other partners, researchers noted that an estimated 6.3% of citizens of the ASEAN region faced hunger in 2021. The report also stated that 28 million Southeast Asians were severely food insecure in 2021, meaning there were days when they went without a meal or ran out of food.

Agritech startups can change this dynamic, making food sources more secure and enabling the region to have sufficient yields to export and generate much revenue. According to Statista Research, in cooperation with BIS Research, smart agriculture worldwide is expected to reach USD 34.1 billion by 2026. With this kind of profitability potential, agritech can rise further and change people’s lives in other sectors, such as healthcare, by growing organic food untainted by chemicals.

Challenges to agritech in ASEAN

With the digital transformation of Southeast Asia in full swing, every sector faces similar issues regarding technology adoption. People are not that eager to change their traditional, tried-and-tested farming methods. There is suspicion about how agritech will affect ASEAN citizens, whether it is safe, what it will mean for their jobs, and if it can live up to the benefits experts predict.

Due to the impact of climate change on farming, the world is switching to sustainable solutions, and agritech can be part of that change. However, policy shifts involve significant amounts of money, and allocating more investments to agritech is necessary. Plus, the cost of modernising or adopting new technologies and equipment is high, making it challenging for smaller farms to afford them. Sometimes the price of entering the agricultural sector and becoming part of the ecosystem can put off emerging startups.

Furthermore, the global economy is suffering, meaning many investors have less liquid capital than before to invest in startups. Lack of funding is also affecting the ability of agritech startups to hire tech talent to help navigate the ever-changing situations on the farm.

The war between Ukraine and Russia has limited the flow of fertiliser and wheat to other nations, exacerbating food shortages worldwide. In 2020, Russia and Ukraine were among the top five wheat exporters in the world. Now, constant supply chain disruptions hamper the movement of foods and other natural resources to places like Southeast Asia. Energy and production costs have also increased, limiting the acquisition of technological innovations that may boost farming.

The scope of agritech in Southeast Asia

Agritech can help ASEAN overcome food insecurity, combat malnutrition, feed the underfed populations, and produce enough yields for export. Currently, Southeast Asia is known for exporting coffee, seafood, vegetable oils, rice, and more. By integrating technology into all aspects of farming, the region can solve many problems. For example, Singapore does not have enough land for agriculture, meaning it needs alternative solutions.

AI and Big Data are making a significant difference to agritech startups. This technology means companies can now automate processes, such as regulating temperature and lighting in indoor farms. 

AI can monitor granular details to help grow healthier crops. For example, by determining the quantity and quality of plant food in the soil. Essentially, AI will record growth patterns to enhance yields, and data analysis can ensure that farmers can make more informed decisions on being productive and effective. Ensuring more organic crops free from harmful fertiliser chemicals than those in modern-day farms means a healthier ASEAN population too. 

In Indonesia, seafood farmers still hold on to traditional methods of doing things, meaning the industry needs to catch up to its potential. Startups like eFishery are helping farmers optimise and employ technology, such as mobile apps, to solve the issue of under or overfeeding the fish and shrimp. 

A bright future

As the examples above show, agritech in Southeast Asia can address many of ASEAN’s food challenges. Agritech is beneficial for creating employment in the region, inspiring the next generation of tech innovators to emerge and make a difference. Moreover, with AI handling many farming activities, startups can save money for cash flow by reducing staff.

It is now possible to farm in limited spaces, avoid harmful chemicals, and begin fighting to end food insecurity in the region. Sustainability through agritech will be vital in getting Southeast Asia to the next level.