Giving agriculture a tech boost

Arief Witjaksono started a chicken farm in 2018 with some partners in the city of Tangerang, west of Jakarta, but left after two years because the business was not profitable due to the low efficiency of the farm.

Now, the 38-year-old runs a start-up that helps farmers supply up to five million chickens across Indonesia each month.

His company, Pitik, developed technological solutions that not only make the rearing of chickens easier, but also better the lives of farmers.

“I realised how traditional and backwards the industry was back then,” he said.

He was surprised that people still used an old-fashioned scale to weigh chickens when deciding if they were of the right size for sale, and that some farmers used live-feed cameras not to monitor the birds, but to look at the digital thermometer in the coops to ensure that the living conditions were suited to their growth.

In contrast, Arief and his team use modern technology to study the animals in real time and enable farmers to better manage their conditions so that the rearing process is more efficient.

With the help of the start-up, farmers use an Internet-of-things sensor that measures data such as temperature and humidity in the coop, and a Pitik-developed app that monitors and controls the conditions in the coop so that an optimum production can be achieved.

Pitik is one of several Indonesian firms that have sprouted in recent years to seize potential opportunities in the archipelago’s agriculture industry.

According to the World Bank, agriculture, forestry and fishing have consistently contributed a significant part of Indonesia’s gross domestic product (GDP). In 2019, these sectors formed 12.7% of GDP, and latest figures show that in 2021, they accounted for 13.3%of GDP.

But despite this, young people are not attracted to working in the field. According to the National Development Planning Agency of Indonesia (Bappenas), the proportion of Indonesian workers in the agricultural sector has decreased significantly, from more than 65% in 1976 to only 28% in 2019.

Bappenas has even made a bleak prediction – that by 2063, the Indonesian farmer will disappear as a profession, thereby plunging the archipelago into a food crisis.

Firms like Pitik, however, are determined to not let that happen. In less than two years since it became operational, the start-up has partnered with more than 600 farmers to rear chickens.

“Agri-tech is the backbone of our daily lives. It’s the food that we eat every day, and with the rising population of the world, that is even more reason that we need to use technology to improve agriculture,” said Arief.

The big challenge lies in getting young people interested in the agriculture, forestry and fishery sectors.

Only 23% of Indonesia’s 14.2 million people aged between 15 and 24 worked in these sectors in 2019, based on the most recent available data from the National Labour Force Survey.

Andrew Soeherman, the 36-year-old chief executive of digital farming solutions provider Eratani, said that the idea of working in the business of growing food might not seem popular with young people due to the conditions that they might have to face, like working outdoors in the sun.

But Soeherman, whose firm regularly meets the farmers it works with, believes that the work is worth it.

“People are happier to work in cafes or offices, sure. But when you already decided to serve this mission and go after its opportunities, what feels hard initially will not feel hard once it pays off,” he said. — The Straits Times/ANN

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