How Agri-Tech Innovation is Helping Us to Grow More Food With Less
Agritech offers a strong platform to showcase the harnessed technologies, for exhibitors to share their innovations from various countries in tackling current food issues and demand, in a sustainable format. The second Agri-Tech Food Expo Asia, which ran from 31 October to 2 November 2023, showcased innovative solutions to make food production more sustainable.
The world is facing a deep and increasingly urgent food crisis. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, there are 745 million more moderately to severely hungry people in the world today than in 2015. Last year alone, approximately 29.6 per cent of the global population – 2.4 billion people – did not have access to sufficient food.
Even more concerning is the rapid growth in our food consumption rates. Researchers predict that meat and seafood consumption in Asia will surge by 78 per cent by 2050, largely due to population growth. This places additional strain on our natural resources and raises our carbon emissions, worsening our environmental impact.
To feed more mouths on a sustainable scale, we must completely rethink how we produce food. Recent innovations such as lab-grown meat and high-tech farming ecosystems capable of producing substantial crop yields with minimal land usage are currently being explored. However, building food resilience and security is a collective responsibility that requires infrastructural and policy changes to achieve impact on a global scale.
With this agenda, Constellar organised the second edition of the Agri-Tech Food Expo Asia (AFTEA) to convene global industry leaders, innovators and solution providers and highlight the newest breakthroughs in agriculture technology (agri-tech) offering promising solutions to address our current challenges.
Creating a platform to spur agri-tech innovation A participating event of the Singapore International Agri-Food Week (SIAW) held at Singapore’s Sands Expo & Convention Centre, AFTEA 2023 offered a glimpse of how such technologies can be harnessed to address our food crisis. This platform serves as a meeting point for international MNCs and startups to exhibit their products and foster valuable industry connections, building a dynamic environment for knowledge sharing and developing crucial partnerships.
Singapore leads the way in Asia as the pioneer of a large-scale agri-tech convention, bringing together a diverse array of agri-tech companies from around the globe. The 2023 AFTEA showcased 200 agri-tech firms representing more than 25 countries, including Australia, Bhutan, Germany and Spain. Together, they illustrated how agri-tech innovations can offer sustainable solutions to meet the rising food demands of growing populations while simultaneously reducing our environmental footprint.
A key focus at AFTEA 2023 was engaging our youth to create a sustainable future. Through partnerships with institutes of higher learning such as the National Technological University of Singapore and Republic Polytechnic, the event encouraged a free-flowing exchange of ideas between industry veterans, young talents and students. Notably, the event’s second day saw finalist teams from the RP-Trendlines Agri-Food Incubation Programme pitching their agri-tech innovations to leading experts in agriculture. AFTEA has received strong industry and government support for its past two editions.
Mr. Alvin Tan, Singapore’s Minister of State for Trade and Industry, officiated the event as Guest-of-Honour on the first day of AFTEA 2023. Dr. Koh Poh Koon, Singapore’s Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and Environment, graced the event on its second day with a tour of the various exhibits. Dr. Koh has overseen several key national agriculture developments, such as the plan to construct an 18-hectare Agri-Food Innovation park in Sungei Kadut.
Alternative protein production, stacked farms, and more The Singapore government has set an ambitious goal to generate 30 per cent of its food supply by 2030. At AFTEA 2023, the Lim Chu Kang Agri-Food Hub exhibition, hosted by the Singapore Food Agency, gave attendees a sneak peek of the early concepts that will contribute to achieving this objective. The show highlighted innovative urban farming practices and facilities designed to transform the rural Lim Chu Kang district in the north of Singapore into an agri-food production hub. These groundbreaking solutions encompass a stacked farm approach to optimise land usage, a cooling facility to reduce energy consumption in farming and a centralised waste management system aimed at processing farm waste efficiently. Farming solutions provider Arianetech and agriculture biotech firm GRAIN International took the spotlight at the Living Lab Tech Showcase, showing firsthand how high-tech urban farming can yield high-quality produce. We found this useful as farming takes on a new approach in terms of scarcity in land-use in Singapore so this is a good example that lends itself to a strong innovation to drive good produce. Meanwhile, at the Cultivated Meat Pavilion, hosted by the APAC Society for Cellular Agriculture (APAC-SCA), visitors encountered futuristic concepts in lab-grown meat and alternative protein products. Noteworthy innovations included Kosmode Health’s energy- and cost-efficient plant protein extraction method and Umami Bioworks’ end-to-end solution, which leverages machine learning to expedite cultivated seafood production for manufacturers.
The Umami team aims to encourage the cultivation of fish species that are challenging to breed, like Unagi (Japanese eel). Established three years ago, the company’s goal is to attain “price parity”, making this delicacy more accessible to a broader audience in a sustainable manner, both economically and environmentally. They are gearing up to introduce its first product, Marina Cat, the world’s first cultivated cat food through a partnership with the California-based agri-tech company CULT Food Science Corp. Insect Food Technologies is also poised to revolutionise the pet food industry by producing nutritious, protein-rich larvae. Using larvae as a protein source consumes fewer resources than conventional sources, and the waste produced by insects is nutrient-rich and can be used as eco-friendly fertilisers. Addressing food safety was another key focus at AFTEA 2023. A Thailand-based startup, EASYRICE, employs AI to enhance the efficiency and accuracy of rice quality inspection. Natural Trace has developed an organic DNA-based tagging solution that can be safely added to any food product, enabling suppliers to ascertain the product's origin using the company’s database within just two hours, thereby ensuring supply chain integrity.
Decarbonising the agri-food sector for a sustainable future According to the Asia Food Challenge Report 2023, the agri-food sector accounts for 34% of all CO2 emissions globally, with Asia responsible for 42% of these. At the SIAW Gala Dinner, Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Mr Heng Swee Keat urged stakeholders to accelerate decarbonisation efforts by exploring ready technologies and sustainable practices at cross-sharing platforms such as SIAW. Decarbonisation was high on the AFTEA 2023 agenda, with the exhibition highlighting solutions and investment opportunities that can mobilise action towards system-level changes. One such example was Circular Unite, which leverages data analytics technology, blockchain smart contracts and recycling solutions to assist clients in circular economy literacy and ensure the success of long-term decarbonisation efforts.
Over three days, the second AFTEA ignited forward-looking discussions and catalysed collaborations that will shape the future of agriculture and food technology. Through the technology showcases and insightful dialogues, the event not only assured attendees of the ongoing transformative efforts but also emphasised the imperative role of decarbonisation in tackling one of the most profound global crises, the environmental impact of our agricultural practices.
With a keen eye on innovation and a commitment to sustainability, AFTEA looks to illuminate the path toward a greener, more secure and more resilient food future.
This article was originally published by Constellar and is republished here with permission.