Harvesting the Future: The Asia Food Challenge Report

Is Asia the next agri-food innovation hub?

During the 2019 Asia-Pacific Agri-Food Innovation Week in Singapore, Rabobank, PwC and Temasek released “The Asia Food Challenge Report: Harvesting the Future,” which identifies the challenges and opportunities for food production in Asia.

The report estimates that, over the next 10 years, cumulative investment of $800 billion above existing levels will be needed to grow Asia’s food and agriculture industry to a sustainable size. That is, in order for Asia to feed itself. The majority of these investments – around $550 billion – will enable key requirements around sustainability, safety, health and convenience. The remaining $250 billion will drive increased quantities of food to feed Asia’s growing population.

Rabobank, Temasek and PricewaterhouseCoopers launched the Report in Singapore on November 20 over a dinner attended by 300 senior business leaders, government representatives, start-ups, media and other thought leaders.

“As the leading global Food and Agri bank and thought leader on key sustainable food production trends that matter today, Rabobank is taking the lead in the conversation about how the entire food chain is part of the solution to feed the world sustainably,” says Diane Boogaard, Rabobank’s CEO Asia. “Food security will be increasingly affected by climate change. Asia, already unable to adequately feed its growing population, will feel the brunt of climate impact and we need to act with urgency.”

A new innovation hub

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance of Singapore, Heng Swee Keat opened the dinner, touching on the growing demand for food while supply and arable land is limited. Technology and innovation are clearly needed to help address the food challenge, but how to translate innovation into solutions? Heng cited Singapore as an example how a city state with land and resource constraints is now growing food that it could not previously. Through technology and innovation, strawberries are now grown in Singapore all year round, in a climate-controlled environment. Food is also grown today in unconventional places or with a small footprint, like a highly automated fish farm in an eight-story building.

Lim Boon Heng, Chairman of Temasek, believes Asia is not going to solve its food challenge through the continuation of traditional farming practices, or even modernizing those practices. New technologies will be needed to disrupt old models and a concerted effort is needed to fully unlock the investment potential. He sees the chance for Singapore to become the next Asia Agri-Food innovation hub.

Learning from the Netherlands

The Netherlands, despite being a small country, is a pioneer and excellent example of what the future of farming could look like, says Boogaard. It become the second largest exporter of agricultural produce in the world by forging partnerships across the private and public sectors, and by collaborating with NGOs and academia. Boogaard sees parallels and opportunities for Asia. The Netherlands did not become a success story on its own – and nor should Asia have to face its challenges alone. Technology from elsewhere can be localized and adapted to Asia for its successful implementation.

Key takeaways from the Asia Food Challenge Report

  • Asia’s current expenditure on food is projected to more than double to $8 trillion by 2030, driven by population growth, rising affluence and changing consumer demands.
  • Key areas with great potential to address Asia’s agri-food challenges: high-tech inputs; sustainable proteins; modern aquaculture; controlled environment farming; and efficient marketplaces, digital adoption and greater traceability.
  • Collaboration across Asia’s agri-food sector will be needed to fully unlock its $800 billion investment potential. Government-coordinated ecosystems and agri-food tech hubs will offer critical support.

Visit www.asiafoodchallenge.com for the full report.