Food and Fertilizer Technology Center - publications

Jul. 31, 2019

The move towards smart agriculture

If we want a stable supply of food crops to provide people with good nutrition and health,  we have to move towards smart agriculture. That is basically the take home message of the 15 speakers from nine countries who joined the recently concluded international symposium on“Smart Agriculture for Environmentally and Consumer Friendly Food Production.”

Understanding consumers

Consumer’s demand, environmental protection and smart agricultural technologies are the three powerful elements from which FFTC, the National Pingtung University of Science and Technology (NPUST) and the World Vegetable Center (WorldVeg) joined together to gather more than 100 participants in this international symposium. Held last May 28-30 at NPUST, the symposium gathered 15 experts from France, Indonesia, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan and Thailand to share experiences and exchange ideas on the use of smart agriculture, a management concept using technology to increase the quantity and quality of agricultural products.  The aim is to suit consumer’s demand in various countries while at the same time adhering to guidelines and policies that reduces, minimizes or causes no harm upon ecosystems or the environment.

Based on “Intelligent agriculture by ICTs,” and “Environmentally friendly technologies,” which are two of the five program themes of FFTC’s Strategic Action Plan for 2019-2020, FFTC Director Dr. Kuo-Ching Lin said that when this project was being proposed to the Center, he immediately liked the idea that one of its major aims is to understand consumer’s demand in many countries so that scientists can adjust the direction of their crop production. The idea that there would be sharing of experiences and knowledge on the use of smart agricultural technology and biocontrol strategy appealed to all of us because of its practicality,” he said.  “And the mere fact that it would also focus and emphasize certification and traceable production for food safety issues makes this activity very relevant.”

On the other hand, Dr. Marco Wopereis, Director General of the World Vegetable Center, said there is  a need for a transformation of our food systems towards healthier diets and more sustainable production systems while creating value and jobs, in particular for young people. “We need to look at food systems with a fresh look and from a health angle, an environmental angle and an economic angle,” he said. “To achieve transformational change, we need to work on both the demand and supply side for nutritious diets and environmentally sustainable development.”

Lectures and presentations focused on the smart food chain system, the certification system for food safety, traceability of agricultural products, innovations on vegetable food systems, building trust among consumers, eco-friendly crop improvement and management, and plant protection among others. In the field of smart agriculture, there were presentations and discussions which revolved around the use of hi-tech gadgets such as drones, smart greenhouses, soil monitoring systems, smart irrigation, the Internet of Things (IoT), Variable Rate Technology (VRF), early warning devices, among others.

The presentations further led to discussions on the high cost of technologies, harmonization, regulation and integration of the General Agricultural Practices (GAPs) from regions to countries, sharing of data and youth employment. These were just some of the issues which engaged the speakers and participants to share perspectives and suggest recommendations on how smart agriculture can be maximized to help farmers improve and sustain their livelihood.

Technology’s high cost

The participants all agreed that the smart technologies presented are all beneficial to the farmers but their very high costs will pose problems especially to the poor farmers in the region who cannot afford to buy some of the high-tech gadgets. The recommendation was to brainstorm and sort ways to reduce the high cost of artificial intelligence technology machines. Engaging and cooperation and networking activities could also be a solution as gadgets can be shared or leased, especially by farmer cooperatives. Capacity building and educating the farmers about cost efficiency can also be one of the ways to address the problem as farmers need to know that their high investments would benefit them in the long term. Other recommendations include to simplify and innovate technical agricultural machinery concepts into more practical applications, standardize the principles for integrating resources application because different countries have different types of agricultural practices, gather and collect more data to confirm the improvement of various smart technologies for agriculture as this will hasten and enhance the GAP certification of many farms in the future and study other crops aside from the usual staples like rice and corn to achieve more balance in food production.

Symposium wrap up

At the closing ceremonies, FFTC Director Dr. Kuo-Ching Lin succinctly wrapped up the symposium by first thanking everyone for their great efforts in sharing their knowledge and experiences in smart agriculture. He then concluded that based on the presentations, each country has different focus on smart agriculture based on their natural resource endowment and stages of development. He said Southeast Asian countries focus on precision agriculture, while Northeast Asia focuses on GAP and the overall social and ecological sustainability. Although GAP is the direction of future development, regardless of whether its organic or not, GAP still needs to be promoted and only by changes in the code of conduct can it make significant and more comprehensive progress. Whether it is fit with GAP or organic food production regulation, governments should always ensure food safety for people. The advancement of technology research and development and production methods is mainly driven by demand, that is, demand-oriented research and consumers play an important role in this process, and the implementation of food and agriculture education can drive the establishment of a sustainable food system.

Dr. Toshio Ohtani, Vice President of the National Agriculture and Food Research Organization (NARO), delivers the keynote presentation on “Smart Food Chain System – to Developing Highly Relevant Society from Consumer to Agri-Food Industries in Japan.” He talks about NARO’s  history and contributions to modern agriculture and presents the 5th Science and Technology Basic Plan (FYI 2016-2020) which is being promoted by the Japanese government.

Opening ceremony speeches: 
Deputy Minister, COA
Dr. Junne-Jih Chen

Opening ceremony speeches: 
Director, FFTC 
Dr. Kuo-Ching Lin

Opening ceremony speeches:
President, NPUST
Dr. Chang-Hsien Tai 

Opening ceremony speeches: 
Deputy Director General, TARI
Dr. Jyh-Rong Tsay

Opening ceremony speeches: 
Director General, WorldVeg
Dr. Marco Wopereis

At the closing ceremonies, FFTC Director Dr. Kuo-Ching Lin succinctly wraps up the symposium emphasizing the roles of smart agriculture and GAPs in the attainment of sustainable agriculture.

In Shanhua, Tainan, speakers and participants of the symposium visit The World Vegetable Center, an international, non-profit organization dedicated to vegetable research and development. The symposium participants are guided to the Center’s high-tech experimental field, the vegetable gene bank, where the world's largest collection of vegetable seeds is stored and the vegetable demonstration garden.

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