For many years, malnourishment and poverty rates in South and Southeast Asia have exceeded 40% in many countries. According to the Investing in ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) 2023 report, the region accounts for about 8% of the world’s population. Yet it only has 3% of land available for food production.
In an attempt to address food poverty and insecurity, agricultural technology (agritech) has become a growing sector. It significantly impacts locally and globally by removing plant-growing inefficiencies, boosting crop yields, and reducing the environmental impact of farming, thereby helping to feed communities.
The agricultural tech market comprises management platforms, supply chain and inventory documenting options, GPS and field-mapping services, monitoring tools, and sustainable farming solutions. By growing food sustainably, farmers can conserve water, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, protect biodiversity and soil health, and function in an energy-efficient way, ultimately lowering the operational costs associated with the land.
We explore the methods of agritech Southeast Asia needs to develop
Southeast Asia is home to a variety of farm exports. Malaysia and Indonesia are known as the biggest sources of palm oil. The former also sells rubber, cocoa, and wood products, whereas the latter produces coffee, vegetables, and fruits. Vietnam and Thailand are excellent at producing rice, seafood, and fruits. Furthermore, the latter has processed tuna and sugar, while the former offers coffee, tea, and cashew nuts. Other regional nations also supply agri products to the markets.
Unfortunately, growing foodstuffs depletes resources like water and degrades the soil. Thus, the region urgently requires solutions to assist in developing and transporting these farm products and to adopt new business methods. Adopting agritech in Southeast Asia is crucial to opening the nations to innovative technology across their food production processes and supply chain logistics.
Three ways agritech is benefiting ASEAN
The global smart agriculture market looks to grow from USD 15 billion in 2022 to USD 33 billion in 2027. As the Investing in ASEAN 2023 report shows, Southeast Asia must improve its agritech integration to ensure citizens have adequate food access. Food supply chains are becoming fragile, and demand is rising due to population growth.
Other challenges include underdeveloped infrastructure, especially in rural areas with no internet connectivity or smartphones. A lack of training and knowledge about digitisation, modern farming techniques, and inadequate agricultural machinery add to the issues. Furthermore, limited venture capital (VC) engagement, insufficient financing, and the high cost of adopting digital solutions plague the sector.
Concerns also abound over the inadequate availability of farmland and water wastage due to over-irrigation. Moreover, dangerous fertilisers seeping into the soil and water basins cause health and environmental problems.
Vietnam, for example, has cultivated 40% of its land but is vulnerable to rising sea levels. That means the government must spend more to build infrastructure that can handle such forces of nature.
The agricultural technology industry provides three ways to make an impact in ASEAN:
Farmers are employing technologies, such as drones and sensors, to boost their food production through precise and efficient methods. Drones can help plant seeds or spray crops at preset times. Sensors play a part in vertical farming in countries like Singapore, which has limited farmland. They can detect crop growth, adjust temperatures, and monitor the soil.
The Internet of Things (IoT) also enables tracking of all aspects of farming, including remotely switching off lighting or activating pipes to water crops.
Sustainable farming practices
Technology is helping farmers adopt practices that reduce water wastage, monitor carbon emissions, generate clean energy, and recycle resources. For example, hydroponics systems help to recycle wastewater and reclaim it for crop use.
Agritech startups can provide pest management systems to keep crops healthy and safe from pest attacks. They can also offer renewable energy sources, such as biofuels, to keep farms running with a low carbon footprint and more cost-effectively.
With financial technology (fintech) solutions integrated into smartphones and other devices, smallholder farmers have greater access to financial services than before. They can transact without travelling to the urban centres, reducing air pollution from driving and minimising deforestation by not using paper bank receipts.
Blockchain technology can help with climate action by making it easier to calculate and track carbon footprints across the value chain.
Future of agritech in ASEAN
According to the 36th session of the Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific held by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the members decided to enhance agritech, increase awareness about its benefits, support farmers and agricultural entrepreneurs, and foster collaboration between all stakeholders.
Furthermore, they anticipate more will be done on data governance since many systems and sensors will collect personal data. Appropriately implemented agritech in Southeast Asia will enhance food security and help farming become more productive and efficient while reducing negative environmental impacts and encouraging sustainable farming methods for the region’s greater good.