Institute to underpin Smart Farmer push

High value-added products have not only gained interest among manufacturers as a way to generate more revenue, but also farmers keen on a higher income.

Institute to underpin Smart Farmer push
Business

Institute to underpin Smart Farmer push

Project aims to modernise the agricultural sector using technology

published : 25 Dec 2021 at 09:11

newspaper section: Business

writer: Lamonphet Apisitniran

High value-added products have not only gained interest among manufacturers as a way to generate more revenue, but also farmers keen on a higher income.

The Institute for Agro-Based Industries under the Federation of Thai Industries (FTI) is working with the government to build a new generation of farmers who can combine modern technologies with marketing plans to better sell their products, which in turn helps to drive the Thai economy.

"The institute has collaborated with many state and private agencies to help Thai farmers develop their skills to become smart farmers," said FTI vice-chairman Sakchai Unchittikul, chairman of the institute, referring to the government's Smart Farmer initiative.

The institute became an FTI unit in 2018, aiming to improve Thai agriculture through R&D development and create opportunities to earn more revenue in the upstream, midstream and downstream agro-industry sector.

Farmers can use knowledge as a springboard to modernise their farming and supply their products to factories for development as future food and even space food, he said.

MODERN AGRICULTURE

One new form of management the institute is promoting in cooperation with the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry is precision agriculture development.

Set to be carried out between 2021 and 2023, the precision agriculture scheme uses technology to increase crop yields and encourages farmers to group together for large-scale production for better production and marketing plans.

"It is a pilot scheme now spanning 2 million rai of farmland," said Mr Sakchai.

Corn, sugar cane, palm, rubber and tomato farmers are the target groups of the scheme, which is expected to help participants improve farming, sales and logistics, he said.

In the next stage, the institute and the ministry want to expand the farmland area and increase the types of agricultural products to cover rice, holy basil, basil and Thai herbs, said Mr Sakchai.

The FTI believes agriculture will be a key sector to drive the Thai economy, which has been limited by the impact of the pandemic since 2020, he said.

However, more efforts are required to develop farming techniques and improve marketing management to ensure farmers can earn adequate revenue, instead of struggling to deal with low crop prices.

"It's great Thailand has already implemented a policy to improve the agricultural sector and develop local farmers into smart farmers," said Mr Sakchai.

Thai agriculture is generally based on old-fashioned techniques, with many farmers lacking "Agriculture 2.0" knowledge that includes the use of chemicals to nurture crops and eradicate diseases and pests, he said. These farmers also try to increase crop yields by hiring more workers.

Thailand's farming sector faces structural challenges caused by a lack of labour and the need for better farming management to serve agribusiness, said Mr Sakchai.

Given the rapid digitalisation of society, the government is promoting the Thailand 4.0 scheme, or the fourth Industrial Revolution, centred around advanced technology and high-level services.

Attempts to lift farmers to the Agriculture 4.0 level are part of this scheme, he said. They include helping farmers get accustomed to technologies such as drones to help them conduct farm work.

The Internet of Things and smart farming can also be used to develop the agricultural sector.

"Smart farming technology will enable farmers to better use resources and plan their farming," said Mr Sakchai.

FUTURE FOOD

To add value to agricultural produce, farmers are being encouraged to develop it into future food, which includes organic farm products and alternative proteins that are meat substitutes.

"We want Thai farmers to do organic farming to make chemical-free products in order to earn more revenue," he said.

Demand for organic vegetables, which are considered healthier, is growing because consumers are more health-conscious. This is a new business opportunity for farmers, said Mr Sakchai.

On June 19 this year, the FTI suggested the government make "agriculture safety" a national agenda item to improve and modernise the agricultural sector.

Thailand also has high potential to develop alternative proteins made from plants, including grains and algae, as well as insects, he said.

The total value of future food in the global market stood at US$203 billion in 2020 and is expected to increase by 51% to $306 billion by 2025.

"We should take advantage of our agricultural sector to develop the future food industry and use it to jointly drive the economy and help Thailand escape from the middle-income trap," said Mr Sakchai.

This means both agricultural and industrial sectors must increase production standards and farmers need to learn new technologies, he said.

"One structural problem in the agricultural sector is a lack of high technology usage to support the production system," said Mr Sakchai.

SPACE FOOD

One kind of future food is space food, which is produced and processed to feed astronauts during their missions to outer space.

Four Thai students and a university lecturer formed a team to compete in the Deep Space Food Challenge, organised by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration in October this year. They proposed a project to develop insect-derived protein into space food.

Insects have become a mainstream agricultural product in Thailand and there are a lot of insect farms in the country, notably cricket and grasshopper farms, said Mr Sakchai.

Crickets and grasshoppers have the potential for development into novel food products because insects are a more sustainable source of protein than meat, he said.

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