By Gracy Fernandez
With food shortage threatening the region, agri-tech may be one of the few fields where entrepreneurs can create social impact and make good money
When entrepreneurs in Asia Pacific think of what tech company to start, they are most often drawn to high tech fields, such as ride-hailing, fin-tech, and many other sectors that are suffixed with “tech”. Entrepreneurs, in short, want to disrupt traditional, consumer-facing industries with the latest innovations. While creating new solutions for consumers is important, there are many less visible industries in the region that are also ripe for innovation.
One such example is agriculture. We seldom think of how the food on our table gets there, much less how it was farmed, harvested, and delivered, but agriculture is also experiencing a seismic shift through tech-enablement. The so-called agri-tech is growing in Asia Pacific both among startups dedicated to the space as well as horizontal companies that target the sector in some way.
It’s important to highlight the companies and founders working in agri-tech, as a means of encouraging other talented entrepreneurs in Asia Pacific to consider doing the same. With a global food shortage threatening the region in as little as 10 years, agri-tech may be one of the few fields where entrepreneurs can create as much social impact as they do business revenue. Food security and sustainable agriculture are among the sustainable development goals of the UN for 2030.
Here are four tech companies from Asia Pacific that can give you an idea of how entrepreneurs can innovate in agriculture.
Most farmers across the region have not had a formal education in agriculture, relying instead on knowledge from the community. Agrostar aims to fill in this gap. The company has created a mobile app that provides farmers with best practices related to farming, customized to whatever particular crops they grow. This kind of market education helps farmers in India improve their yields, and in turn, their income.
Agrostar also has a marketplace where farmers can purchase industry materials such as seeds and farm equipment. The marketplace is notable because of how farmers can contact the company. If they are interested, all they need to do is phone in a missed call to a hotline, and a company representative will phone them back. Such consideration for the circumstances of farmers, who may not have pre-paid phone load, should be a model for all entrepreneurs who want to enter this space. Even in agri-tech, you must think user-first.
Since many people will not be inherently interested in supporting farmers no matter how much education they receive, i-Grow approaches them from another angle: money. Through the i-Grow app, individuals can invest in the crops of individual farmers, solving a pain point for two sides of the marketplace. Individual investors, who want to diversify their investments, can get a return of 9 to 13 per cent in as little as six months. Farmers, for their part, gain the capital they need to grow their farming operations and business.
i-Grow investors get to view the growth of their crops through their mobile app. The success of i-Grow points to a key fact: Even entrepreneurs who have a dramatically different domain expertise from agriculture, such as finance, can make an impact in the field if they approach it with their own unique lens.
Pundi X (Singapore)
In partnership with Indonesian company HARA, Pundi X will deploy its blockchain-based point-of-sale systems to unbanked farmers across the world, beginning with an initial deployment in Indonesia. The Pundi XPOS will extend financial inclusion to the unbanked farmers, who can use it to accept transactions in cryptocurrency as well as process other incentives.
Pundi X, of course, is not an agri-tech company, but a pure technology company with its XPOS devices and its blockchain-based phone, the XPhone. It just goes to show that companies in entirely different verticals can still find ways to apply their core technology as an agri-tech solution. All entrepreneurs need is the willingness to collaborate with key partners like HARA, who, in this case, will be using the roll-out to collect valuable data on farmers. How can other entrepreneurs similarly leverage their products to solve one of the thousands of many pain points of farmers?
Farm Citizens App (the Philippines)
Founded by Jo Soliman, a serial entrepreneur and also a trader who famously lowered prices of rice beneath market rates to make it more accessible to Filipinos, Farm Citizens is an end-to-end solution for farmers in the Philippines that includes the ability to register their products and sell directly to consumers. One of the more innovative features is the ability for farmers to take a photo of diseased crops, upload it to the app, and have experts respond within 24 hours on how to address the blight. It’s a new category: on-demand crop assistance.
What’s notable about Farm Citizens is that Soliman partnered with the department of agriculture to bring it to more farmers. Since agriculture is an important resource for a nation’s citizens, there will often be forward-thinking government agencies and non-profit organizations willing to help entrepreneurs who launch solutions in this space. But first, you must have the vision to imagine a solution as unique as on-demand crop assistance. Are you ready to step out of your shoes and into those of the humble farmer who harvests our food?