There is a plague in Asian farms — and no it’s not a pest

[Editor’s note — The following article was written by a guest author, Abhinav Mehra, who is a Portfolio Manager at ID Capital.]

Over the past two decades Asian countries have witnessed positive economic changes by way of urbanization and industrialization. This however has presented the region with a significant challenge of feeding its rapidly increasing population. In a G20 conference held in Rio de Janeiro, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon brought forward the scale of the issue — “In a world of plenty, no one, not a single person, should go hungry. But almost 1 billion still do not have enough to eat. 67% of these people reside in Asia. I want to see an end to hunger everywhere within my lifetime.” Agriculture in Asia has been predominately a traditional family run business. Once the pillar of contribution to GDP and employment across the continent, agriculture has taken a turn for the worse. The region’s ever emerging infrastructure coupled with lack of farmer education leads to 37% of its post-harvest produce being lost. Moreover, with rise of technology, numerous new-age sectors have sprung up in turn leaving the food and agri sectors unable to attract the youth for employment and research. Renowned Investor and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel in his book Zero to One, highlights the systemic issue of education in the sector — “Food matters for everybody, but you can’t major in it at Harvard. Most top scientists go into other fields. Most of the big studies were done 30 or 40 years ago, and most are seriously flawed.”

Is Technology the answer?

Tech comes in at an opportune time to halt the exodus of labor and increase productivity on the farm. The lack of technology in the sector makes it ripe for opportunity, reinvigorating it once again as a ‘sunshine sector’. To improve the sustainability of its food system, Asia needs not only innovative solutions but also indigenous ones. As is often the case in such periods of radical change, innovation will come from both existing companies and new startups. The venture capital industry has risen to the challenge and amounts invested the Agritech/Foodtech vertical have nearly doubled from US$ 2.6 bn in 2014 to U$ 4.6 bn in 2015. While Silicon Valley, as might be expected, has been the first to embrace this revolution, momentum is now growing from the East. Jason Clay — Executive Director, at the World Wildlife Fund envisaged that “Much like the revolutions taking place in the energy, bio and tech sectors, the next revolution in food production will be built on the interchange of expertise and ideas from a much wider network of thinkers, innovators, explorers and entrepreneurs.” This context lays the foundation for specific solutions developed by regional startups to cater to regional needs. There is a need to identify and fund such startups, and ultimately foster the entire Agritech/Foodtech ecosystem in the region.

Yes it is — Come find out why

The Future Food Asia Award (FFAA) provides a much-needed springboard for the growing cohort of Asian agriculture and food entrepreneurs to develop new technology-enabled solutions. On 26th May 2017 in Singapore, 8 shortlisted startups from the region will compete for the USD 100,000 grant and present their innovative solutions, addressing some of the most pressing challenges of the food and agriculture industry. Panel discussions with industry, government and academic experts will explore a wide range of perspectives on the future of food. Lee Eng Keat, Executive Director Singapore Economic Development Board, said, “We are excited about the launch of the Future Food Award Asia platform, to catalyze the development and commercialization of agri-technology solutions in Singapore. This open innovation platform is aligned with EDB’s drive to establish Singapore as a leading centre for value creation by encouraging collaborations between companies.” Now more than ever, corporations will play a significant role in shaping how consumers and policy makers think about our food system. Ian Pinner, President for SEA and ANZ at Archer Daniels Midland Company emphasized the importance of innovation in food — “We recognize the tremendous potential for growth and investment in unique and cutting edge new innovative technologies in food and agribusiness technologies across Asia-Pacific, and are excited to be a part of the Future Food Asia platform”.

Event passes for Future Food Asia 2017 are available at www.futurefoodasia.com/register-attend. Use the Promotion Code NUSENTFFAA to avail a 20% discount. You can also contact the event team at ffaa@idcapital.com.sg

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ID Capital

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NUS Enterprise nurtures entrepreneurial talents with global mindsets, while advancing innovation and entrepreneurship at Asia’s leading university.

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