Malaysia Advances Agriculture through Tech Innovation

March 1, 2019

Malaysia’s agricultural sector has been a major driver for the country’s economy, but continues to face difficulties owing to inefficiency and bureaucracy, which have resulted in significant losses. Nevertheless, the overall outlook for the sector remains positive, with smart farming providing a potential solution to longstanding challenges.

Smart farming or precision agriculture refers to the optimization of inputs, including water, fertilizers, pesticides and tools for enhancing yield, quality and productivity.

The management concept revolves around the use of satellite farming or location-specific crop management to observe, measure, and respond to variabilities in crops.

Through the utilization of information technology such as drones, satellites, and meteorological tools, farmers can ensure that soil and crops remain at peak health and productivity levels through a process that is efficient in terms of both time and cost.

By using such technology, farmers are provided with real-time images of leaves and soil in order to decide which course of action to take, instead of relying only on staff to observe individual crops.

Data from those images can then be processed and integrated with sensors and other information to help formulate plans for both immediate and future decision-making, such as where and when to plant specific crops and when to water them.

The main problems facing traditional agriculturalists include low crop yields due to inefficient techniques and unpredictable weather; varied circumstances based on factors like location and resources; inability to deal with unforeseen events such as natural disasters that can cause water contamination and damage to both crops and agricultural infrastructure; and various produce waste as a result of factors like poor quality seeds or inadequate farming practices.

It is therefore vital for Malaysia to begin enhancing its agricultural sector using innovations that can help mitigate risks, while also boosting profits.

In addition to information technology, these innovations also include telematics, global positioning satellite systems, robotics, automated hardware, drones, and technology that is used to enable variable rate application. This refers to the application of a material such that the rate is based on the precise location or qualities of the area.

Farmers are also utilizing farmland strategically by using technology that helps bolster yields, while also assisting in cost management. Internet of Things devices linked to a central Network Operations Center are also being employed, with incremental revenue and profits ultimately justifying the investments in innovation.

Technology has been proven to enhance efficiency in all areas and at every episode, including storage, transportation, wholesale and retail, while overall empowering Malaysia’s farmers by securing greater financial security.

Smart farming had previously been limited to large-scale operations that could better support technology infrastructure and other resources necessary to comprehensively implement precision agriculture and reap the benefits.

Now in a world of drones, mobile apps, smart sensors, and cloud computing, precision agriculture is more accessible than ever to smaller operations such as agricultural cooperatives and family farms.

Implementing new agricultural technology can be difficult given that the average Malaysian farmer is around the age of 50, with youths in rural areas having a tendency to move to the big cities in pursuit of job opportunities and modern living standards. As such, volume outputs are expected to be impacted.

Technological innovation therefore becomes essential to keeping the agricultural sector attractive for younger generations, with analytics – especially for small and medium-scale farmers – proving to be an important facilitator for improving gains made by larger enterprises, particularly in developed regions.

Cloud computing, with its greater access and affordability, has allowed for the development of a vast multitude of tools and software that make leveraging big data analytics an option for smaller farmers.

Such leveraging has gone from costing thousands of U.S. dollars to mere hundreds as affordable entry points are made increasingly available to farmers by utilizing smartphone capabilities and cheap sensors, with mobile apps focusing on simplicity and user experience.

Analytics is expected to serve a central role in helping to improve yields and generating economic benefits for modern farmers, with productivity focused more on data and technology rather than manpower. It is important for the advantages of technology to be emphasized so farmers will see innovation as the means through which to develop long-term real income, rather than as a threat.

Nevertheless, most farmers still currently lack the financial resources to adopt smart farming technology due to debt and value chain politics. This is where the Malaysian government assistance can play a crucial role, by expanding financial programs and allowing farmers to modernize their operations. Outsourcing services and learning institutions can also be established to help farmers implement precision agriculture.

With concerns mounting over proliferating commodity prices, water scarcity, unpredictable weather conditions, and booming populations, a new high-tech smart era is necessary now more than ever. For farmers, precision agriculture utilizing data and automation is key to tackling future challenges.

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