Farming For The Future

COVID-19 has disrupted food supply chains across the globe, but agricultural technology is keeping Asia’s farming industry fertile through revolutionary apps, automated robots and more.

Hands-off harvesting

We all know Japan as a country that loves robots, with giant robot statues, robot cafes and robot pets. But robots can do more than just provide entertainment; they can also address very real problems, helping farms to function even in the face of an aging workforce.

For instance, harvesting is a laborious part of farm work, requiring human decision-making to identify harvest-ready crops on top of the physical task of collecting them. In countries with maturing populations like Japan, these challenges can easily limit agricultural output. However, thanks to advances in machine vision, AI and robotics, autonomous robots are paving the way towards more productive farming despite worker shortages.

Autonomous vegetable-harvesting robots (yes, really!) are already proving to be a popular solution in Japan, developed by corporations like Panasonic and tech startups like Inaho. Consider Inaho’s robot, which uses navigation technology to zip through the farm, hunting for harvest-ready produce all on its own.

An advanced AI algorithm in the robot’s vision system enables it to identify the vegetables ripe for picking based on their color and size, after which the proprietary machinery harvests the vegetables. The robots have already been shown to be able to determine the optimal harvesting time for tomatoes, bell peppers and asparagus without any human input.

Water from a different kind of cloud

If you, like many others, found yourself nurturing an indoor garden of house plants over the past 18 months, you’ll know how challenging it is to stick to a nurturing and watering schedule.

Proper watering, or irrigation, is a big part of keeping plants happy and healthy—and the same holds true for farms. Indeed, irrigation is a key consideration when it comes to the future of food, as food security requires both sufficient and sustainable production, where nutritional needs are met without running environmental resources like water dry.

Enter technology, which can help boost food production minus the heavy strain on natural resources. In Sri Lanka, local startup SenzAgro aims to reduce agricultural water usage through an automated irrigation system that adapts to different environmental conditions and deploys the optimal amount of water required. Thanks to advanced soil sensor technology and cloud-based analytics integrated with micro-irrigation features, the system works for both small-scale urban indoor farming setups and conventional open field farms.

A combination of interconnected farm sensors and analytics allows for more informed agricultural management and more successful irrigation—ultimately enabling sustainable water usage. Furthermore, the cloud-connected water delivery system, controlled through the SenzAgro platform, allows farmers to monitor and tend to their crops remotely, further reducing the environmental cost of traveling.

Putting technology into rural hands

Need to order dinner, track a habit or find a date? There’s an app for that. But what about increasing agricultural yield? Well, there’s an app for that too. As it turns out, not all agricultural innovations revolve around cutting- edge technology. Simple solutions, like a smartphone app and a sturdy internet connection, can be a gamechanger for smaller farms.

In Myanmar, a digital platform called Village Link equips rural communities and smallholder farms with mobile technology and precision farming solutions they may not otherwise have access to. Through the Htwet Toe smartphone app, Village Link delivers precision farming advisory services and market access to individual smallholders. The app also provides access to the Village Link Satellite that enables farmers to monitor their crops, land and weather with just a smartphone.

Smartphone apps can also provide easily accessible support to farmers. In the Philippines, the Department of Agriculture (DA) has come up with the Fisheries and Agriculture Response Management (FARM) Citizens Application, an online information dissemination platform for agricultural stakeholders nationwide. FARM allows users to send their concerns and reports directly to the DA at any time of the day—just one tap away. The app also sends out weather warnings, displays rain forecasts and provides farmers with an emergency hotline.

To feed the growing global population in the face of diminishing natural resources and the impacts of climate change, improving agriculture through technology increasingly looks like a crucial part of the answer to ensuring a secure and sustainable food supply. The diversity of advances and innovations in Asia’s agritech scene offers a promising view into the future of both farming and food security.

This article was first published in the January 2022 print version of Asian Scientist Magazine.

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Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine. Illustration: Ajun Chuah/Asian Scientist Magazine.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Yi-Di Ng is a writer with a background in genetics research and a passion for stories, writing and communicating ideas. She is currently pursuing her Masters degree in English Literature.

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