Farm sector urged to go digital for food security, jobs

  • 6 January 2019

Source: Manila Bulletin
6 Jan 2019

The farm sector should transform into adapting digital agriculture and disruptive breeding technologies to catch up with predicted food scarcity and raise agriculture contribution to jobs and GDP.

The farm sector in Southeast Asia is the least digitized sector of the economy with only $4.6 billion invested for agriculture technology in 2016 according to AgFunder.

On the contrary, the needed investment for agriculture technology in the region totals to $265 billion per year, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Southeast Asian agriculture expert Dr. Paul S. Teng said in a consultation organized by the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study & Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) that technology adoption will be a key determinant of farm growth.

Teng stressed digital agriculture, which primarily refers to Internet of Things (IoT) enables knowledge intensity in agriculture. For one, agriculture production depends highly on weather stability, and IoT provides higher accuracy of information on data-enabled agriculture through more accurate weather forecasting.

IoT — mobile computing data sensors, satellite and imagery — contributes to information on irrigation, soil condition, and topography which are critical in farming.

Technologies in financing (fintech) will also be pivotal in farm development — providing time-sensitive small loans to farmers.

"Given that time-sensitive small loans are the biggest challenge that farmers face, it'll be interesting to see solutions such as record-keeping platforms that enable small and marginal farmers to keep records, track their farming activity and build a credit profile," said Teng.

Smart phones are instrumental in collaboration between fintech startups and traditional farm financing entities.

"This would help farmers in effectively building a knowledge base that will help them get access to favourable loan terms that correlate with their farming activities," said Teng in the SEARCA-organized "Reshaping Agriculture & Development in SE Asia."

"Gene-Editing biotechnologies (CRISPR, TALENs, Zinc Finger Nucleases) provide capability – the ability to edit native crop genes coding for important traits and generating non-transgenic plants. Genome-edited (important) crops include, soybean, maize, wheat, rice, potato, tomato, and peanuts."

Among the technologies that should be invested in, according to AgFunder 2018, are farm management software, sensing & IoT , decision support software, big data analytics; robotics, mechanization & equipment; novel farming systems – indoor farms, aquaculture, insect, algae & microbe production; novel seeds – biotech seeds; agribusiness marketplaces; farm-to-consumer e-grocery; and, miscellaneous – land management tech, financial services for farmers.

But on top of investing in technology, Teng said the agriculture sector should be directed to this transformation process toward managing climate uncertainties and water scarcity; agro-industrial value chains and integration of smallholders; and, farm tourism and family farming. (Growth Publishing for SEARCA).