How can technology offer greater yield and productivity in the agritech industry?
Key Takeaways from NUS Industry Roundtable Series: Visioning the Future of Agritech
Contributed by Chen Yi Ting
Currently, Singapore imports over 90% of its food supply, leading to high reliance on other countries. As such, the government has announced its 30 by 30 initiatives last year, aiming for 30% self-sufficiency in food production by the year 2030. This has led to greater awareness and emphasis on food security and self-sufficiency.
On 4 November, participants across sectors joined an in-depth discussion among three stakeholders in the agritech industry, covering topics from the future of the agrifood industry, plant breeding to opportunities for agritech. It was a fruitful and interactive session with vibrant discussions and Q&A sessions. The specially curated panel was formed by:
● Timothy Chua, Business Development Director at Singrow Pte Ltd, CEO of Singrow Solution Pte Ltd
● Eunyoung Chae, Ph.D. Assistant Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore
● Andrew D Powell, Ph.D, Chief Executive Officer, Asia BioBusiness Pte. Ltd., Singapore
● Moderator: David Sher, Venture Development Manager, NUS GRIP, NUS Industry Liaison Office
Governmental support for the Agritech sector
Governmental intervention and support are key to promote innovation and ensure sustainability in the agritech industry. Technological development in the agritech industry has been minimal compared with advancements in transportation over the past 80 years, in which horse carriages were replaced by vehicles such as cars and buses. This, coupled with increasing population size, strains the food system and results in problematic food wastage. Timothy pointed out that currently, 25% of all farmland is rated as highly degraded, approximately 80% of global deforestation is driven by agricultural concerns and $1 trillion investment is necessary until 2050 for irrigation water management in developing countries alone. Thus, governmental investment in food security, resilience and technological leadership is of utmost importance.
Skills in demand for future Agri-techno specialists
In addition, artificial intelligence, machine learning and sensor engineering are hot skills in demand for future agri-techno specialists to breed plants with higher yield and quality. According to Professor Chae, AI has great potential for monitoring plant growth and health and predicting plant offspring traits. Automated platforms and sensors which can assess plant traits would also provide great assistance to biological researchers for plant breeding.
Potential areas for entrepreneurship in the Agritech industry
On the macro-level, the agrifood industry consists of a vast array of opportunities for a wide range of technologies. A typical agricultural value chain starts with production, harvesting and transport followed by processing, storage, distribution and packaging before being sold at wholesale and retail markets. Thus, Foodtech is also a vital area for consideration in the agrifood industry. For instance, creation of plant-based meat and impossible burgers is a popular Foodtech area gaining traction in the market.
Lastly, Andrew cautions that while opportunities abound for innovative inputs in agriculture in Singapore and beyond, the problem identified must be real, and what is done must be relevant and commercially feasible. It is optimal to think about whether anyone would pay for your product and pressure test with multiple industry players.
The NUS Industry Roundtable Series is a platform for exchange of knowledge amongst startups, researchers, and industry experts. Centered on a series of topics, the Industry Roundtable harnesses the university’s innovation resources to uncover the next big trend. Check out the NUS Enterprise website for more updates on future events.