Agricultural technology (agritech) is now widely used worldwide, and it has significantly impacted food security, sustainability, water and soil conservation, healthy food development, efficient farming, and food growth monitoring. According to Statista Research, the market value of the startups in the agritech Southeast Asia sector will contribute to the global industry value, which predictions suggest will reach USD 22 billion by 2025

Many global challenges have contributed to the need for agritech to thrive. These include climate change, inadequate agricultural investments, inefficient farming methods, and a lack of enough farmland; for example, in a place like Singapore. The COVID-19 pandemic also contributed to food shortages and insecurity worldwide, as production decreased due to the lockdowns. That meant farmers were no longer producing enough food to feed the public. 

Here is how AI and big data are empowering agritech in Southeast Asia

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2022 report estimated that in 2021 6.3% of people in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) had endured hunger. Furthermore, 28 million people went without a meal on some days or ran out of food.

Examples of agritech startups in ASEAN

Thus, several agritech startups inside and outside ASEAN are working towards impacting the region and helping end food insecurity and hunger. Some examples include:

Ambit Robotics

Australian-based robotics company Ambit Robotics offers a fully autonomous robot that helps farmers get better pricing by providing yield projections. It sends a robot to the field to count vegetables and fruits every 24 hours. The constant checking enables farmers to track crop changes and predict the likely yield.

Ambit Robotics also ensures precision agriculture by developing robots that can move in fields and spray crops, thereby reducing human labour and protecting the robot operators from chemical exposure.

Founder Paul Voutier spoke on an evokeAG webinar, saying, “We have very large farms in Australia by global standards, but in ASEAN, the typical farm size is about a hectare which gives rise to very different economics, requirements and a lot of inefficiencies”. Moreover, he added that Australian tech startups could benefit because the gaps and inefficiencies mean there is an opportunity to join the ASEAN startup market and make a difference in people’s lives and livelihoods.

Intelligent Growth Solutions (IGS)

Automated farming company Intelligent Growth Solutions (IGS) uses its vertical farming technology to solve indoor farming inefficiencies, labour costs, and harsh weather effects that harm crops. It creates crop growth towers in climate-secure environments, which are scalable, sustainable, and make use of smart technologies like AI and IoT. 

It helps achieve sustainability by recycling non-chlorinated water, which is also pesticide-free. Intelligent technologies can monitor crops, adjust lighting, automate functions, and connect with other devices to exchange data, thereby enhancing efficiency and productivity.

Its vertical farming approach is similar to Singapore-based Sky Urban Solutions, which converts rooftops into vertical farms to address the limited farmland problem in the country.

Key factors for agritech expansion into Southeast Asia

As agritech startups and companies expand into Southeast Asia, there are several factors they should keep in mind. First, the region is plagued by slow tech adoption in some sectors. Agritech is very innovative, and there may be much scepticism about the quality of food and the expected yield level. Additionally, growing meats still does not satisfy people’s appetites as there is some reluctance to try these alternative products rather than the natural and traditional meat products they are accustomed to.

Secondly, economic conditions are unfavourable right now, and many ASEAN countries are dealing with inflation, a high increase in energy costs, and constantly rising production costs. These make it difficult for agritech startups to secure funding that can boost innovation.

According to Bain & Company, Southeast Asia faces “a disproportionate amount of climate disasters and extreme weather events”. These can all affect local supply chains and create food insecurity. Switching to agritech can help to generate economic opportunities for the region while fixing the food shortages. Agritech companies should incorporate tools like Big Data, analytics, artificial intelligence, sensors, and more to boost food production, streamline processes and reap environmentally friendly benefits.

Some parts of Southeast Asia suffer from limited fertile farmland, but vertical farming solutions can make a significant difference if employed correctly. Governments can aid the process by providing more land spaces to farmers to establish more vertical farms and produce more food.

The future is personalisation and innovation 

Even though the techniques in agritech Southeast Asia currently utilises have similarities with global agritech methods, the region has its own set of unique opportunities and challenges. While the green revolution is protecting the environment and ecosystems, maintaining clean water and preventing soil erosion, there is still a challenge in recycling and preventing food wastage. Nevertheless, the government should continue supporting farmers and encouraging agritech startups to innovate and find solutions for the region.