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Tech is driving growth in Malaysia’s agriculture

A recent report, comprehensively dissected how technology and agriculture are being melded together in Sarawak, Malaysia.

This phenomenon was exemplified by two major events related to the development of agriculture in the state. These events were the Sarawak Agrofest 2018 and the ICAAS 2018.

A key theme for both events was smart farming, which involves the integration of advanced technologies into farming practices in order to increase production efficiency and the quality of produce.

According to the Deputy Chief Minister and Minister of Modernisation of Agriculture, Native Land and Regional Development of Sarawak, the state government strongly believes that industry players must be willing to open their minds, shift their paradigm to adopt and adapt to new, modern and more effective processes and practices.

Smart farming involves the integration of advanced technologies into farming practices in order to increase production efficiency and the quality of produce. Every aspect of farming can benefit from technological advancements.

Therefore, the Deputy Chief Minister said it was timely for players to embrace digital technology in order to reap the benefits of modern technology.

The inaugural Sarawak Agrofest succeeded in generating more than RM1 million worth of sales, having attracted more than 20,000 visitors when it was held from Oct 20 to 28.

The Assistant Minister of Native Land Development stated that while the total sales volume was officially recorded at RM939,554.25, the amount could be more than RM1 million if ‘outside-the-counter’ deals are also included. He noted that the average sales per participant based on the total sales volume was RM8,388.88. There were 71 participants for the agro sales and 41 for the agro kitchen.

The Assistant Minister also urged the staff and officers of the Ministry of Modernisation of Agriculture, Native Land and Regional Development to take up the challenge to ensure Agrofest 2019 next year is a bigger success with more sales and more participants.

He said that another Chief Minister has agreed to make Agrofest an annual event and to organise it in other regions in Sarawak.

In its aim to further develop the agriculture sector, the Sarawak government had said it would allocate RM50 million to implement its agriculture development plans in efforts to become a net exporter of food products by 2030.

The Deputy Chief Minister said this was necessary to enable Sarawak to compete with countries in this region, as well as to ensure that the quality of food products is of international market requirements.

Currently, the region is a net importer of food products by RM3.6 million each year. The aim is to reverse by using advanced technologies to increase productivity.  The hope is that, by using the latest technologies, productivity will increase thereby increasing competitiveness and enabling the region to reach the target that has been set.

Smart Farming represents the application of modern Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) into agriculture.

Following the plant breeding and genetics revolutions, smart farming is taking over the agricultural world based upon the combined application of ICT solutions such as precision equipment, the Internet of Things (IoT), sensors and actuators, geo-positioning systems, Big Data and drones.

Smart Farming has a real potential to deliver a more productive and sustainable agricultural production, based on a more precise and resource-efficient approach. Some key segments of smart farming include:

  1. Management Information Systems: Planned systems for collecting, processing, storing, and disseminating data in the form needed to carry out a farm’s operations and functions.
  2. Precision Agriculture: Management of spatial and temporal variability to improve economic returns following the use of inputs and reduce environmental impact. It includes Decision Support Systems (DSS) for whole farm management with the goal of optimizing returns on inputs while preserving resources, enabled by the widespread use of GPS, GNSS, aerial images by drones and the latest generation of hyperspectral images provided by Sentinel satellites, allowing the creation of maps of the spatial variability of as many variables as can be measured (e.g. crop yield, terrain features/topography, organic matter content, moisture levels, nitrogen levels, etc).
  3. Agricultural automation and robotics: The process of applying robotics, automatic control and artificial intelligence techniques at all levels of agricultural production, including farmbots and farmdrones.

Smart Farming applications do not target only large, conventional farming exploitations, but could also be new levers to boost other common or growing trends in agricultural exploitations, such as family farming. It can also provide great benefits in terms of environmental issues, for example, through more efficient use of water, or optimisation of treatments and inputs.

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