Malaysia Equipping Farmers with New Age Technology Solutions

February 18, 2019

In an initiative to empower farmers, Malaysia is deploying Industry 4.0 solutions for boosting profit margins and reducing risks.

According to a recent study, food demands across the globe will increase by 70% by 2050. To meet growing demand, the agriculture sector needs to adopt better technologies.

The Malaysian economy is primarily driven by the agriculture sector, which grew 2.8% year on year in 2018. However, the economy is likely to grow slower than expected, due to the inefficiencies and bureaucracy of the existing system.

With the cancellation of two major infrastructure projects in 2018, the Malaysian economy needs to focus on its farming industry. To stay competitive, the government is looking to improve the revenue of its third highest contributor to national GDP.

The current agricultural value chain is inherently inefficient, due to existing complexities. Precise technologies are required to harness the maximum potential of opportunities in the agriculture sector.

The Malaysian agriculture landscape is ripe for establishing Precision Agriculture (PA). Also known as smart farming, PA carried out by the optimization of inputs that directly impact crop yields, both in terms of quality and quantity. These inputs are water conditions, types of fertilizers and pesticides, and tools and equipment.

The implementation of PA management requires observations and measurements of the variability of crops, both inter- and intra-field. The process is executed by using satellite data or analyzing site-specific crop management (SSCM) in detail.

For maximum productivity and quality, farmers need to be empowered with technology-driven solutions. Equipment like satellites, IoT sensors, and drones will be implemented in the fields to record environmental conditions. The data will be fed to weather forecasting Artificial Intelligence tools to make the agricultural process efficient and cost-effective.

It is possible to eliminate farmers’ dependence on manual labor. Crop and soil inspections will be conducted by drones and satellites in real-time. Based on the inspection, AI systems in place will deduce the next course of action for higher crop yields. Such a technology-based ecosystem, where farmers know which field to water and where crop needs to be planted, would lead to a precision-driven agricultural industry that delivers higher revenue.

Current agricultural challenges

  • Crop yield

Yield is completely dependent on unpredictable weather conditions. Usage of inefficient techniques impacts productivity.

  • Crop Variation

Resource endowments, topography and farmers’ individual circumstances limit the crop variations of a field, thus dilapidating crop quality.

  • Disaster Management

Natural calamities lead to harvest loss and disease outbreaks lead to water contamination, thereby adversely affecting agricultural infrastructure.

  • Resource Utilization

Poor quality seeds and low-efficiency practices lead to crop losses, even before they are harvested.

The adoption of technology-driven solutions has become imperative for Malaysia’s agricultural landscape to increase profitability and eliminate risk. The agriculture sector has scope to adapt to technology solutions driven by IT, telematics, GPS, robotics, hardware automation, in-field drones and more.

The strategic use of farmland is crucial to avoid underutilization of resources, such as land and money. Technology solutions allow farmers the ability to enhance crop yields without inflating prices. Internet of Things (IoT) sensors is being implemented in the fields to supply real-time data points to a central network operations centre. It is a much-required investment that will plant the seed for more profit and revenue over time.

Technology has been used to enhance the efficiency of the agricultural process at every stage. From storage, transportation, and distribution, technology will improve efficiency and quality.

Precision agriculture had previously been limited to agricultural giants, as it was capital intensive and required massive IT infrastructure. However, with the introduction of Artificial Intelligence phone apps, drones, IoT devices, and cloud computing, the implementation of PA has become easier.

Current market analysis finds that the average age of active Malaysian farmers is 50 years. With millennials moving to urban areas, agricultural growth is primarily in the hands of 50-year-old farmers, presenting an age gap that stymies technology adoption. Embracing technology is essential to retaining the next generation of farmers in the agricultural sector.

More small and medium farmers have been able to employ analytics for better revenue. The increased and easy access to cloud computing has allowed farmers to leverage the power of big data and harness its potential.

The primary focus of agricultural development in Malaysia is to create low-cost and intuitive solutions. These could be simple mobile apps or affordable field sensors. The cost barrier for the establishment of an analytics system has been reduced from a few thousand dollars to a few hundred.

Analytics will be the primary driver of precision agriculture, with its focus on improving crop yields and, therefore, the competitiveness of farmers who make use of modern technologies.

Smart farming initiatives will focus on augmenting productivity to increase crop yields and overall revenue. The average farmer currently does not have the financial means to adopt such technologies, due to issues of debt and value chain politics.

Therefore, the government of Malaysia needs to offer financial assistance as well as political support to make adoption possible. State support for financial schemes and learning institutions will expedite the process.

IR 4.0, or the fourth Industrial Revolution, is the appropriate platform to enabling such changes in the ecosystem, enhancing productivity with innovation and knowledge.

The Malaysian agricultural landscape is in immense need of a PA system to enhance productivity and revenue figures. Precision farming will optimize the use of water and pesticides. Technologies like smart robots, IoT and blockchain will be utilized in the manufacturing of synthetic foods to drive the personalized nutrition industry.

With food security threatened by commodity prices, water scarcity and population explosion, there is high pressure to adopt high-tech solutions.

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