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Agriculture, Food & Nutrition, People, Planet, Asia Pacific

Grow Asia: Digital technologies could transform farming

Responsible Business | Mar 25, 2019

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Emerging technologies, from blockchain-based supply chain management systems to digital credit-scoring could have profound impacts on agribusiness in Asia, according to Grahame Dixie, executive director of Grow Asia, a multi-stakeholder platform established by the World Economic Forum and the ASEAN Secretariat.

“When we talk to the CEOs of agribusiness… they say: ‘well, if there’s one thing that really will make a difference and that can transform positively our relationship with smallholders, that’s digital technologies’,” Dixie tells Responsible Business.

Smallholder farmers make up a sizeable part of the supply chain for many agricultural commodities. Large, global agribusinesses often rely heavily on these small-scale farms, but the fragmented nature of this segment of the value chain, coupled with enduring challenges of poverty and financial inclusion in many rural communities, makes these relationships complex to manage.

Technology could help to reduce the transaction cost of dealing with many thousands of smallholders, and to address some of the most significant bottlenecks in the agriculture supply chain, Dixie says. Some companies are experimenting with chatbots that can provide extension services to farmers, giving them access to information on how and when to use inputs; others are using e-wallets to streamline payments to smallholders, he says, while technologies such as blockchain could be used to improve traceability, allowing buyers of agricultural commodities to improve safety and security throughout their operations.

Last year, Grow Asia held a ‘hackathon’ in Singapore, bringing together digital experts with farmers and agriculture experts to try to solve some of the industry’s long-running challenges.

“What we learned from the hackathon is that it’s a long way from someone coming up with a smart idea… to getting something delivered on the ground,” Dixie says. The initiative morphed into an incubator, with seven companies now undergoing mentoring and preparing for field tests. Their solutions include peer-to-peer lending and digital credit scoring to an artificial intelligence system that can map pests and diseases, and an “Uber for tractors” in Myanmar.

Grahame Dixie will speak at the forthcoming Responsible Business Forum on Food & Agriculture 2019, held from 26-27 March in Bangkok, Thailand.

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