Can Thailand’s AgriTech industry help feed the world?
“It took almost 10,000 years for food grain production to reach 1 billion tons, in 1960, and only 40 years to reach 2 billion tons, in 2000.” – Gurdev Khush, International Rice Research Institute
Both agricultural production levels and the global population have increased remarkably quickly in recent times. This parallel is very fortunate for human civilization, but it was by no means guaranteed. Recent growth in food production was made possible by the successful genetic modification of crop varieties, alongside other advances in the field of AgriTech.
This story is not over, however. As the world population continues to increase, cities will require even more land that could otherwise be made available for farming. As economies grow, more people will eat meat, thereby putting further strain on the world’s natural resources. And as climate change distorts both temperatures and rainfall patterns, increasing numbers of crops will fail.
In order to keep the world well-fed, we may soon need another miracle from AgriTech. And Thailand, which uses 40% of its land for agricultural purposes, could play a key role in this global effort.
Why Thailand needs AgriTech
Agriculture has played a major role in Thailand’s economic development. As recently as 1980, 70% of the working population was employed within this industry. By 2019, this number had dropped to 32% – though the country remains a major exporter of rice, sugar cane, and other crops.
Although Thailand aims to successfully transition the economy to the digital sphere – known as Thailand 4.0 – this effort is not limited to cities and industrial estates. Agriculture currently makes up over 8% of Thailand’s overall GDP, and more efficient production methods could strengthen this industry further.
The numbers listed above – 32% of the country’s employees, on 40% of the land, collectively producing just 8% of GDP – suggest room for improvement within the industry. Greater productivity can potentially lead to improved economic outcomes for those within the industry, raising living standards while helping to feed the world.
To facilitate progress, the Thailand 4.0 initiative involves setting up ‘innovation districts’ to support the development of the country’s technological capabilities. Moreover, AgriTech is included in the Board of Investment’s specially designed incentive system, precisely due to the importance of this sector to the country’s overall economic path.
Incentives include corporate income tax exemptions, as well as exemptions of import duties on raw materials and equipment. To qualify, businesses must demonstrate that their activities fit within the specific operational categories that the BOI is looking to promote.
When capitalized upon by the private sector, this sort of government support can boost AgriTech investment in Thailand, potentially leading to the development of new technologies which are applicable to other sectors as well. Such successes could increase crop yields, leading to higher export numbers – and improved economic fortunes for the large number of workers in the industry.
Why AgriTech needs Thailand
AgriTech includes all technologies which are applied to agriculture, from mechanized farming methods to automated irrigation, driverless tractors and drones, biotech and GM crops, IoT-linked sensors and thermostats, software systems to predict or detect pest activity, and more.
Because technology can be sold or reproduced around the world, any breakthrough could benefit farmers worldwide. Right now, there are several notable AgriTech startups in Thailand, each with the potential to improve industry performance moving forward. These include:
KoMoMi – Using IoT technology, this startup helps farmers manage their irrigation systems digitally, dividing land by soil and crop type for pinpoint irrigation control.
Algaeba – Using aquaculture technology, this startup develops tools to manage aquatic ecosystems, allowing for sustainable seafood production.
ChikChic – With services designed for chicken farmers, this startup regulates temperature in chicken houses while also providing software that can track costs and productivity.
Talad – Helping farmers directly contact workers, mechanics, and even customers, this communications-based startup enables smooth and fast connections without a middleman.
EDEN AgriTech – Aimed at keeping fruit fresh for longer periods of time, this startup developed an edible spray that can significantly reduce food waste during transportation.
Ricult – Using AI and machine learning, this startup develops software that advises farmers about optimal irrigation and harvesting activity, based on real-time analysis of satellite photos. Ricult also provides weather alerts, soil analysis, and live crop price data. It has even embraced FinTech, offering small loans to farmers through its in-house system.
Any or all of these initiatives could deliver lasting benefits to farmers in Thailand and elsewhere, helping to provide a stable food supply for all of us in the years ahead. In particular, Ricult’s decision to integrate several types of digital AgriTech innovations seems to show visionary leadership for a continuously evolving industry. This forward-looking approach helps explain Ricult’s recent fundraising successes, and why Bangkok Bank is playing an active role in its development.
Over time, this combination of new technology, BOI incentives, and entrepreneurial initiative could help Thailand shape the future of agriculture. Feeding the world is no easy task – but thanks to creative minds hungry for innovation, the seeds for future success are being planted here in Thailand today.