Getting ready for Agriculture 4.0


OVER the past 40 years, Malaysia’s population has more than doubled. In the focus on other priorities – from economic growth to living standards – it is easy to forget the essential role the food supply chain plays and how its capabilities underpin the ability of a nation to thrive.

Pause to consider what goes on behind the scenes for food to arrive on supermarket shelves.

The supply chain is immensely complex, representing one of humanity’s most significant technological achievements. Each grocery item filters through an intricate supply chain, starting with the grower constantly striving to boost sustainability, quality, efficiency and productivity while protecting the environment and reducing waste and costs.

It then moves through a complex network of suppliers continuously looking to hone their processes and improve control.

In 2018, the World Government Summit launched a report titled “Agriculture 4.0: The Future of Farming Technology”, aiming to highlight the growing challenges in food production and supply.

The scale of the task was laid out clearly: “... by 2050 we will need to produce 70% more food...” The vision for Agriculture 4.0 is for farms to modernise and become smart enterprises that are fully connected.

Farmers and agriculture businesses relying on digital and connected technologies can obtain a richer picture of data-driven insights that enable them to have greater control over their operations. Yet, agriculture has traditionally been slower to adapt to new digital dependencies. Common challenges faced are lack of reliable Internet connectivity in rural areas and not having the right skill sets to deploy technology and interpret the resulting data.

On a positive note, Malaysia is already pushing innovation and agritech development to help transform and grow the sector, complemented with the adoption of data and analytics driven by the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation. However, there are still vast swathes of agricultural land that suffer from unreliable or non-existent connectivity.

To take advantage of agritech, overcoming connectivity challenges will be crucial. This is where reliable, ubiquitous connectivity from satellites opens up huge possibilities for growers in remote areas. In some cases, it is as simple as connecting frontline worker teams in large plantations to operations centres to prioritise workload and create efficiencies.

But it could also be using satellite communications to enable farmers to connect data-producing devices in the field, such as weather stations, sensors, data from farm machinery and business applications.

Such connectivity is already enhancing the capabilities of sectors such as mining and rail, particularly in remote locations.

With Malaysia looking to transition to high-income status, successful agricultural transformation is crucial in order to expand the sector’s GDP. This will also help meet the growing demand for food amid an expanding population and urbanisation.

Once the industry sets its path towards the agritech revolution, the opportunities brought about by the combination of reliable, ubiquitous satellite connectivity and a clear data strategy will enable agriculture players and growers to deliver.

The sector is on the threshold of a revolution that could enable it to be a more critical source of economic benefits, such as jobs and revenue, as well as a source of domestic produce and exports that will contribute strongly to Malaysia’s growth.

STEVEN TOMPKINS, Director, Agriculture – Inmarsat Enterprise

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