Recovery & Growth Series: Farming’s Future

Feeding everyone on the planet without harming the environment is a big concern. It’s a challenge to provide enough food for the growing population in a way that is sustainable, affordable, and eco-friendly. According to a report Agriculture 4. , released by the World Government Summit in 2018, we’ll need to produce 70% more food by 2050 to meet the needs of the world’s population. Surprisingly, agriculture only makes up 3% of the global GDP now, compared to a third of its contribution in the past. Sadly, around 800 million people around the world suffer from hunger today [1].

The future of farming is all about making big changes, and the great thing is, we can actually make those changes happen, thanks to the progress in technology.

So how can we use new technology to feed a growing population? It was the main topic discussed during the fourth installment of the “Recovery & Growth” event series titled “The Future of Farming”, organized by ASB’s Career Development Office.

The hot seat featured a panel of distinguished guest speakers, with Chee Hoe Chor, MBA Candidate, Class of 2022, serving as the moderator. The lineup of speakers included:

  1. Mr Ezri Sham, Director of Malaysia’s Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industries’ Young Agropreneur unit. He was previously the Minister Counsellor for Agriculture at Malaysia’s Embassy in Bangkok. His current project involves the development of young entrepreneurs in Malaysia through various financing and training programs, and one of the remarkable achievements in 2020 includes a 65% increase in youth agricultural participation.
  2. Dr. Harikrishna Kulaveerasingam (Dr. Hari), the Sime Darby Plantation’s chief research and development officer. His role is to oversee the company’s global R&D operations across the entire palm oil value chain, including plant breeding, agronomy, and precision agriculture. oss the palm oil value chain, including plant breeding and precision agriculture.
  3. Dr. Suraya Abdul Rashid (Dr. Suraya) is a Professor at the University of Putra Malaysia who teaches chemical engineering core subjects. She is the creator of a nanotech product that boosts photosynthesis in vulnerable plants and has won numerous awards for her nanotechnology inventions.

Key Insights from the Discussion:

1. Technology’s Role in Transforming Agriculture:

Sime Darby Plantation’s use of technology in agriculture:

    • Geographic Information System (GIS) technology: Sime Darby plantations regularly use GIS technology and satellite imaging to monitor their condition using GIS coordinates. This can be used to locate areas that are prone to flooding. Similar technology is used on a large scale to calculate an exact palm count in order to maximize the amount of fertilizer applied to each field.
    • Sensors: Sensors are used as a tool in plant breeding trials to monitor the growth of plant materials that use less fertilizer, grow in dry conditions, and are not affected by a lack of rainfall.

Use of technology by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industries

    • Training: Through the provision of short courses, the Ministry introduces farmers to new technologies such as IOT and big data. Through its affiliated colleges, such as the National Fishery College, it also promotes education in the use of technology and modern machinery.
    • Grants: The Ministry of Agriculture also provides grants for smart farming in order to improve on-the-ground technology implementation and knowledge transfer to all food producers.

2. Nanotechnology is playing an important role in agriculture’s future:

    • Finding a “photosynthesis enhancer”: Suraya used “carbon dot” technology to boost plant photosynthesis rates. These carbon dots are part of a class of carbon-based nanomaterials with unique properties that improve electron transfer, thereby directly accelerating photosynthesis rates.
    • How nanotechnology can help farmers overcome modern problems: Nanotechnology products are designed to address new agricultural challenges, but they require researchers to be daring enough to explore new avenues, solve problems creatively, and develop innovative farming solutions. This is usually the result of a multidisciplinary team working seamlessly together: chemical engineers working on nanomaterials processing, biologists who understand plant physiology, statisticians who conduct data analysis, and agronomist engineers who are IoT specialists.

3. Most crops in Malaysia are still grown by smallholders, and empowering them is critical to protecting livelihoods and preventing large-scale monocropping.

Smallholder Farms Play a Critical Role: Smallholder farms are frequently viewed as no longer making economic sense in an era that champions the “go big or go home” mantra. Small farms lack both competitiveness and economies of scale. Despite this, smallholders produce 97% of Malaysia’s fruits and vegetables, 94% of rubber, and 96% of cocoa; they also dominate aquaculture and livestock farming. Smallholders are thus the foundation of the agricultural sector.

Challenges to be Met: Structural issues like limited R&D, market information access, and institutional support can be rectified through policy reforms and infrastructure development. The success of agricultural cooperatives in South Korea and Taiwan underscores their potential.

4. Enhancing Cooperation for the Future of Agriculture

Several key obstacles are preventing closer collaboration:

    1. Meeting industry needs and university standards: There is a clear gap between the research conducted at universities and what the farming industry actually needs. To maximize the use of research efforts, this gap must be closed.
    2. Continual engagement: According to the Ministry of Agriculture, maintaining continuous engagement is critical, even though each entity has its own goals. There must be concerted efforts to bring stakeholders together and create synergy on what each can do to drive the country’s agricultural future.
    3. Collaboration among the three bodies: Stakeholders must collaborate to ensure the industry’s continued health; academic institutions must drive R&D activities, while the government implements supporting policies that also facilitate more effective implementation by industry players.

In Conclusion:

It is evident from the session that such efforts involving representatives from the main development forces in agriculture provide a healthy and vital discourse on the current state of the sector, and more importantly, its prospects for the future.