A recent report there has never been a greater demand for sustainable food resources, nor has innovation ever been so important to safeguarding our food systems.
But solutions to these global challenges are already in the works and forward-looking countries are re-engineering their agricultural industries by developing new technology and adopting sustainable farming practices.
Currently, Thailand is setting an example by revolutionising the future of food.
Thanks to its agricultural legacy and strategic use of natural resources, Thailand has long played a key role as a leading net food exporter. Now, the country hopes its inventiveness, food manufacturing expertise and investment in agriculture and food technology can help reinforce its status as the “kitchen of the world”.
Thailand has consistently transformed its food industry over the past 60 years. Through the transfer of technology, perseverance and government support – from improving credit access for farmers to implementing international standards in production and packaging to ensure the highest level of safety and quality across the food chain.
Through doing so, the country has climbed to the upper echelon of the global agribusiness trade.
Today, Thailand is one of the largest net food exporters in the world, shipping core commodities such as high-quality rice, cassava, canned tuna and pineapples to key trading partners such as the US, Europe, Japan, Australia and Canada.
Thailand has shown how quick it is to adapt. It was the first Southeast Asian nation to adopt agriculture biotechnology. Now big companies are experimenting with robotics, automated sensors and drone technology to increase yields and cut production costs.
However, the country has the capacity to do more.
About 40 per cent of the population works in agriculture, wages remain competitive and farmers have historically shown a willingness to experiment with new seeds, machinery and methods.
Both the Thai government and the private sector understand that favourable conditions will not be enough to meet the needs of the future. Nor will traditional means of farming.
In 2017, the Thailand Board of Investment (BOI) received 215 new applications for projects related to agriculture and agricultural products, valued at over THB62 billion (US$1.9 billion) in total. This figure illustrates how important agriculture is to the country. Not just any kind of agriculture, either.
Many of the projects Thailand has greenlighted should steer the industry toward agricultural technology (AgriTech) and food technology (FoodTech). One of the pillars of AgriTech is smart farming, a tech-driven farming framework that uses innovations such as GPS, automation through robotics and data analytics to increase the yield and quality of agricultural products.
Eyeing evolution from farm to table, the Thai government believes smart farming will improve agriculture beyond just yield and quality. It will strengthen the entire industry by cultivating collaboration between farmers, the public sector and private companies.
While the government aims to incubate big projects driven by AgriTech, Thai institutions are investing in the future of FoodTech. Currently, 24 universities nationwide allow up to 7,000 students to graduate each year with a biotechnology background, helping to prepare a well-trained workforce for companies breaking new ground in FoodTech and AgriTech in Thailand.
Thanks to precision agriculture, robotics and biotechnology introduced by leading companies, many Thai farmers are already enhancing productivity and quality in the digital age. These innovations offer hope for the future, as well as a model for Thai and foreign collaboration.
As the country moves forward with its Thailand 4.0 roadmap – an economic model designed to transform the economy through greater investments in digital technology and innovation – the Thai government continues to push technology, innovation and research and development.
That includes the breakthroughs happening at Thailand’s leading food innovation hub which features state-of-the-art facilities and units dedicated to biotechnology, biosensing and biodiversity. The hub incubates research, development and innovation for the food industry.
It is integrated into Thailand Science Park (TSP), a community of advanced research institutes, universities and private companies ranging from start-ups to SMEs to multinational corporations. So far 35 businesses have joined this pioneering innovation hub, including the Thai Union Group, the world’s largest processor of shelf-stable tuna.
The Thai government, for its part, has shown a commitment to transforming Thailand into high-tech food and agriculture hub. Thailand Board of Investment (BOI) offers a wide range of incentives to companies that set up advanced facilities in the country, such as corporate income tax exemptions of up to thirteen years. Non-tax incentives include visa and work permits for experts, as well as permission to own land for promoted activities.