Agriculture technology, or Agritech, is the application of technology in the agriculture industry, to improve various aspects of it, such as, crop yields, soil health, water efficiency, and livestock management. It encompasses various technologies, including precision agriculture, data analytics, robotics, biotechnology, and farm management software. It has been an area of keen interest for investors because of the high level of relevance and hence market opportunity, but also to government bodies due to the importance of it, to essentially the entire population of the world. The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in supply chain disruptions and brought into sharp focus the need for food security, highlighting once again the importance of dedicating time and effort to investing in, and advancing this sector.
What is the agriculture industry and why is it important?
The agriculture industry includes all activities related to producing food, fiber, and other agricultural products, as well as support services such as transportation, marketing, and finance. Broadly, it can be categorized as such:
- Seeds: The foundation of agriculture, providing diverse plant varieties essential for crop cultivation and food production.
- Precision farming: A technology-driven approach to agriculture, using data, sensors, and GPS for efficient and sustainable crop management.
- Livestock farming: The raising and breeding of domesticated animals for meat, dairy, and other agricultural products.
- Feed: The production and distribution of various nutritional food sources for livestock and poultry.
- Feed additives: Supplements incorporated into animal feed to enhance nutritional value, improve digestion, and support overall livestock health.
- Livestock health: The study and management of animal well-being, including disease prevention and treatment, to maintain a healthy and productive livestock population.
- Pet health: The focus is on preventive care, nutrition, and medical treatment to ensure the well-being and longevity of domesticated companion animals.
The agriculture industry is estimated to grow from c. $11.3b in 2021 to $12.5b in 2022, and to $18.8b in 2026, at a CAGR of 10.7%. The Asia Pacific was the largest region in the agriculture market in 2021, while North America was the second largest region. Underpinning the growth and size of the agriculture market are two factors related to the world population.
First, the size of the world population, which reached 8.0b in mid-November 2022 from an estimated 2.5b people in 1950, is expected to grow to 9.7b in 2050 and could peak at nearly 10.4b in the mid-2080s. Second, life expectancy at birth is expected to rise from 72.8 years in 2019 to 77.2 years in 2050. These two factors lead to a continual increase in the demand for food globally.
In addition, with heightened geopolitical tensions and climate change, cyclical and disruptive factors contribute to agriculture efficiency being an integral part of longer-term solutions for food security. This necessitates greater control over food production and consumption. Other challenges include the need to adapt to climate change, preserve biodiversity, and reduce environmental impacts.
These factors contribute to the need to invent more efficient processes and alternative methods in agriculture, which can be aided by adopting technology.
The relevance and importance of technology in the industry
By incorporating technology, agritech solutions help optimize agricultural processes, reduce waste, and minimize environmental impacts, thus ensuring food security, economic growth, and sustainable development.
The agritech industry is being driven by various technological advancements, including sensors, drones, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, which are enabling farmers to collect and analyze data to make more informed decisions about their crops and livestock. These technologies are helping farmers to improve their yields, reduce waste, and operate more efficiently.
The global agritech market size was estimated at $19.5b in 2021 and is projected to grow at a 17.3% CAGR to reach $46.4b by 2030.
Different segments in agritech
Agritech can be divided into several sub-verticals, each addressing specific challenges and opportunities in the agriculture industry. Some of these sub-verticals include:
- Precision agriculture: Precision agriculture involves using data-driven technologies, such as IoT devices, sensors, and satellite imagery, to optimize crop yields and resource utilization. This approach enables farmers to make more informed decisions about planting, fertilizing, irrigating, and harvesting, thus enhancing productivity and reducing input costs. Companies such as Pitik (Indonesia) and Demeter (Vietnam) offer a suite of digital tools for farm management and data analysis.
- Robotics and automation: Adopting robotics and automation technologies in the agriculture industry can enhance efficiency, reduce labor costs, and minimize environmental impacts. Examples of agricultural robotics and automation include autonomous tractors, robotic harvesters, and drones for crop monitoring and spraying. Companies in this sub-vertical include Augmentus (Singapore), which develops robotics automation software, and Aerodyne (Malaysia), which develops drone software and offers drone-related services.
- Vertical farming and controlled-environment agriculture: Vertical farming is an innovative approach to producing crops in urban areas using stacked layers in controlled environments, such as warehouses or shipping containers. This farming method allows for year-round crop production, reduces the need for pesticides, and minimizes water usage. BoomGrow (Malaysia), HydroFresh (Malaysia), Sky Greens (Singapore) produce leafy greens, while Singrow (Singapore) and Orlar (Vietnma) produce a variety, including strawberries, tomatoes and leafy greens.
- Biotechnology and gene editing: Biotechnology and gene editing technologies, such as genetically modified organisms (GMOs), have the potential to revolutionize the agriculture industry by enabling the development of crops with improved traits, such as resistance to pests and diseases, higher nutritional content, and better adaptability to climate change. International Rice Research Institute, based in the Philippines, claimed that Manila was the first government to approve their Golden Rice variety, a strain rich in vitamins that can feed more people for less.
- Alternative protein sources: Alternative protein sources, such as plant-based and lab-grown meat, present potential solutions to the environmental and ethical concerns associated with traditional livestock farming. The production of alternative proteins requires significantly fewer resources and generates lower greenhouse gas emissions than conventional meat production. Meat Zero (Thailand) and Next Gen Foods (Singapore) produce plant-based meat, while Shiok Meats (Singapore) produces cell-based seafood.
- Livestock and dairy technology: Enhancing the efficiency, productivity, and welfare of livestock and dairy farming by applying innovative technologies and solutions. Examples of technologies in this sub-vertical include livestock monitoring systems, automated milking machines, and precision feeding systems.
- Aquaculture technology: Aquaculture technology aims to improve the efficiency, sustainability, and profitability of fish farming and other aquatic production systems. Technologies in this sub-vertical include water quality monitoring systems, automated feeding systems, and fish health management solutions. Companies in this space include eFishery (Indonesia) and Blue Ocean Aquaculture Technology (BOAT) (Singapore).
- Supply chain and traceability technology: Leveraging technology to enhance the transparency, efficiency, and sustainability of agricultural supply chains. Solutions in this area include blockchain-based traceability systems, digital platforms for connecting farmers with buyers, and data-driven tools for optimizing logistics and inventory management. AgriAku (Indonesia), Aruna (Indonesia), Eden Farm (Indonesia), Glife (Singapore), and TaniHub (Indonesia) are platforms that connect buyers and sellers, to make the supply chain more transparent.
- Agri-fintech: The application of financial technology solutions to address the unique needs and challenges of the agriculture industry, such as providing farmers with access to credit, insurance, and financial management tools. ALAMI (Indonesia), Amartha (Indonesia), and Komunal (Indonesia) offer loans to farmers in this sector but are not exclusively operating in the agriculture sector.
- Agricultural waste management: Developing technologies and solutions for managing agricultural waste, reducing pollution, and promoting the circular economy in the agriculture industry. Examples of technologies in this space include waste-to-energy systems, nutrient recovery solutions, and bio-based materials derived from agricultural waste. WasteX (Singapore) aims to help agricultural producers in Southeast Asia turn biomass into higher-value products.
Which part of agritech lie opportunities?
In terms of global agritech funding, AgFunder estimates that the industry has raised $196b total globally since 2012, and $29.6b in 2022, still a 10-year high except for the record $53.2b raised in 2021, with investments in the US continuing to dominate the world. Predictions include more focus on climate tech and carbon (e.g. low-carbon products) and more upstream investments in biotech.
Nonetheless, the agritech industry is vast and continuously evolving, with numerous untapped areas offering significant growth potential and opportunities for innovation.
Some of these include:
- Smallholder farm-focused technologies: The majority of the world’s farms are smallholder farms, which face unique challenges related to access to technology, financing, and resources. Developing affordable and accessible agritech solutions tailored to the needs of smallholder farmers can unlock significant growth potential and improve food security, particularly in emerging markets.
- Drones for agricultural purposes: While drones have been used in agriculture for some time, there is still much potential for expanding their use and developing new applications. Drones can be utilized for crop monitoring, disease detection, spraying, and planting, among other tasks. By enhancing the efficiency and precision of these tasks, drones can help optimize resource usage, reduce labor costs, and minimize environmental impacts. Further advancements in drone technology and regulatory frameworks can lead to increased adoption and innovation in this area.
- AI-driven predictive analytics: Leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) technologies to develop predictive analytics solutions can help farmers make more informed decisions and optimize their operations. AI-driven predictive analytics can be applied to various aspects of agriculture, such as yield prediction, pest and disease detection, and resource allocation.
- Robotics: Labor-intensive tasks, such as harvesting, weeding, and pruning, are often challenging to automate, particularly for specialty crops like fruits and vegetables. Developing advanced robotics solutions for these tasks can enhance efficiency, reduce labor costs, and address labor shortages in the agriculture industry.
- IoT-based livestock management: IoT-based solutions can help farmers track animal health, behavior, and productivity, as well as optimize feeding, breeding, and disease management.
- Controlled-environment aquaculture: As the demand for seafood continues to grow, there is an increasing need for sustainable and efficient aquaculture production systems. Controlled-environment aquaculture (CEA) offers a potential solution by enabling the production of fish and other aquatic species in land-based, closed-loop systems that minimize environmental impacts and resource consumption.
- Agri-ecommerce platforms: Online platforms that connect farmers with buyers, input suppliers, and service providers can help improve market access, reduce transaction costs, and promote transparency in the agriculture industry. These platforms can be particularly beneficial for smallholder farmers in emerging markets, who often face challenges related to market access and information asymmetry.
The Southeast Asia agritech sector is poised for significant growth, driven by strong government support and a promising future outlook. Governments across the region have recognized the importance of agritech in addressing the challenges faced by the agricultural sector and are actively promoting its adoption through various initiatives, including funding, infrastructure development, and capacity building. These measures have not only created a conducive environment for agritech startups and established companies to thrive but also facilitated partnerships between stakeholders across the value chain. As the demand for sustainable, efficient, and resilient food production systems continues to grow in the face of population growth, climate change, and resource constraints, the agritech industry in Southeast Asia will likely play an increasingly crucial role in shaping the future of agriculture in the region.
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