Monday, December 12, 2016
Asia digs deep to upgrade its agriculture.
Asia digs deep to upgrade its agriculture as a perfect storm of population growth and climate change spurs farming innovation. Asian crops were devastated by a severe drought this year, highlighting the urgent need to stabilise farm output and brace for the consequences of climate change. And with the region's population projected to continue growing over the long term, this is no easy task. The good news is that answers are starting to emerge. Agribusinesses are harnessing information technology. Organic farms and so-called plant factories are becoming hothouses for innovation. International investors are keen to water the seeds. These are some cutting-edge facilities to show a glimpse into the future of Asian farming.Spread is a company, which is taking a different approach in innovative farming. It wants to win in the mass market such as in supermarkets — and that means competing against veggies grown in the field. The secret of the company is volume,yes more production in a small enclosure. The company packs a lot of lettuce into its 3,000 sq m factory in western Kyoto, Japan's ancient capital. The heads grow on rows upon rows of shelves under fluorescent lights. The factory has the capacity to ship 21,000 of them per day — enough to make the lettuce profitable even if it sells for Y198 ($1.79). The average price in Tokyo as of November was Y251, according to Numbeo, which tracks the cost of living in big cities. Whether by growing crops indoors or other means, Asia needs to boost yields and mitigate extreme weather. Consumption in big markets like China and India is likely to continue growing steadily. “Asia cannot produce enough to support itself,” the Netherlands' Rabobank wrote in its Asia-Pacific: Agricultural Perspectives report. The bank noted that “limited arable land, inadequate water and poor resource management” are constraining production. That is at the best of times. This year, vast swaths of Asia were hit by drought linked to the El Niño weather phenomenon, resulting in massive crop failures. To feed itself, Asia needs solutions, and Singapore's Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory aims to provide some.The non-profit research institute is funded by Temasek Trust — the philanthropic arm of sovereign wealth fund Temasek Holdings. TLL, as the lab is known, spent eight years developing Temasek Rice, a resilient breed capable of withstanding extreme weather conditions and producing higher yields. Temasek Rice was created using a modern technique known as marker-assisted selection. This allows scientists to zero in on desired traits and breed new, improved crops. Yin Zhongchao, TLL's senior principal investigator, said this type of breeding can enhance food security by increasing production “in a more efficient and sustainable manner”.Since land is limited in Singapore, TLL’s rice is being grown in Indonesia, and the lab wants to partner with more companies to boost production. The spread of mobile communications gives farmers quite a lot of knowledge at their fingertips. Even without souped-up seeds, detailed weather data and other information can help them to cope with climate change, and other threats that come their way. The Vietnamese state telecom company VinaPhone started a service called Nong Thon Xanh, or Green Country. Basically, it turns mobile phones into farm assistants. Through a social network, farmers can subscribe to three packages. For 10,000 dong ($0.45) per month, they get access to an agricultural warning package that includes a range of information: weather forecasts, prices, plant disease alerts, guidelines on relevant state policies, advisories on abnormal conditions affecting agriculture and so on. Coffee and rice packages, available for 31 cents and 22 cents a week, respectively, offer tailored guidance to help farmers prevent diseases from wiping out their crops.more