Digital Technologies in the Asia and Pacific Region and Policy Recommendations for Resilient Agri-food Systems

Digital Technologies in the Asia and Pacific Region and Policy Recommendations for Resilient Agri-food Systems

Published: 2024.06.17
Accepted: 2024.06.11
Assistant Professor
Pridi Banomyong International College, Thammasat University, 2 Prachan Road, Bangkok, Thailand


In recent years, global acute food insecurity has been rising to high records due to factors like conflict, climate shocks and COVID-19 exacerbating global hunger crisis and driving many more into extreme poverty. These challenges make it imperative to innovate, develop and scale up digital technologies to build resilient agriculture food (agri-food) systems in the future. The objective of this study is to provide a brief update on current practices and dynamics of digital technologies and solutions for resilient agri-food systems highlighting challenges and prospects. The digital technologies and solutions highlighted in the paper are based on the literature review and discussion with service providers and experts of agri-food systems in the Asia-Pacific Region. Our main findings are that the digital agriculture technologies and service providers are growing in the Asia-Pacific Region, yet a long journey remains for millions of rural farmers and stakeholders. It will take some time for these technologies to scale up although great enthusiasm and initiatives are evident amongst young innovators, entrepreneurs, and startups. The cases highlighted were limited to precision agriculture, digital information management systems, and IoT devices in the agriculture systems. The comprehensive overview of these technologies aims to contribute to the ongoing discourse on sustainable food security strategies. It emphasizes the need for collaborative efforts among governments, researchers, and industries to harness the full potential of these innovations in shaping a resilient and food-secure future for the diverse nations. It also documents some country specific initiatives that can be replicated in other regions to accelerate building resilient agri-food systems.

Keywords: digital technology; ICT solutions; IoT; agri-food system; policy


With increasing hunger in 2020 and around 720 to 811 million people lacking access to food globally (FAO, 2021), the agriculture food (agri-food) system faces numerous challenges today. Poor nutrition is a dangerous paradox with about 2 million people overweight or obese. One-third of the global food production is wasted, and livestock consumes about two-thirds of the agricultural land and contributes about half of the farming related greenhouse gas emissions (The Economist, 2020). Global population is estimated to rise by 2.3 billion people in 2050 and according to the data from NASA and FAO, 80% of the population will be residing in urban areas. If the current agricultural practices are continued, an increase of 109 hectares of farming land will be necessary to sustain the growth (FAO, 2011). These challenges make it imperative to innovate, develop and scale-up digital technologies to build resilient agri-food systems in the future. The ambitious UN SDG 2030 that aims to end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture would be a challenge without adopting digital technologies and solutions at various levels. This paper discusses the challenges of the agri-food system and highlights digital technologies and trends across the agricultural value chain. These technologies have the potential to deliver significant benefits economically, socially, and environmentally (FAO, 2019).


This review paper focuses on understanding the current practices and dynamics of digital technologies and solutions for resilient agri-food systems based on the literature review and discussion with service providers and experts in the Asia-Pacific Region. From a wide range of technologies, the cases selected were limited to precision agriculture, digital information management systems, and IoT devices in the agriculture systems. The paper highlights the challenges, unique agricultural landscape, and socio-economic factors. It brings forward some cases of cutting-edge technologies that have been instrumental in bolstering food production, distribution, and sustainability impacting the food system paradigm.


Agrifood systems are transitioning as a result of external and internal factors over the years. These factors may be short-lived, but often they may cause long delays, such as the impact of greenhouse gas emissions resulting in climate change. Population growth, urbanization and migration are fundamental drivers shaping the change in food system. Science, innovation and technology have huge impacts on food systems’ changes and also make agriculture productions sustainable. Markets, trade, and infrastructures combined with digitization are cutting across internal and external drivers of food systems. Various policy interventions have started influencing these forces of change in terms of addressing the issues of biodiversity loss. Developments in science and related innovations drive the process of change and their linkages with policies, to bring benefits to farming communities, food industry, and consumers.

About 50% of world’s habitable land is used for agricultural purposes (Ritchie, 2019). The food production process consumes energy at every step from agriculture, transportation, processing, and handling. Transporting the produce from farm to fork takes about 1.4 quadrillion Btu of energy each year in the United States, about 14% of the total energy used for food production (Save on Energy, 2019). Agriculture and related land use emissions, use of fertilizers and pesticides accounted for about 17% of total GHG emission (FAO, 2018). Global human induced emissions due to increase of nitrogen in crop areas have increased by 30% in the past four decades (Tian et al., 2020). These unsustainable practices if not addressed will further worsen the impact of agriculture practices and the quality of produce in the future.

Agriculture (including livestock, fisheries) and food industries broadly represent the production side. However, the food system also comprises of the consumption, nutrition and health, resource utilization, food markets and services as well as food- and agriculture-related income and labour markets. The food systems concept has defined boundaries, while simultaneously being connected to neighbouring systems such as the health system, ecological systems, and the energy system. Further, the system may be impacted by external shocks, such as climate, health, economic or the pandemic (Figure 1).


Technological innovations have been evolving since the green revolution and has increased the total factor productivity (TFP) over time. Today, agricultural innovators are working on analyzing and interpreting data to derive real-time analysis on standing crop, enabling businesses to leverage technology to drive their initiatives towards digitization, predictability, traceability, farm and input channel management solutions, compliance, and sustainability. Various developing countries are today piloting and implementing water saving technologies like micro irrigation and drip irrigation to address the challenges of depleting ground water resources. Technologies like agro-clinics, soil health cards, coated urea, precision agriculture, artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of things (IoT), and innovations through agribusiness incubators on greenhouse cultivation of exotic vegetables are also evident in various agrarian economies. Digital technologies are also solving institutional problems like digitization of land records, geo-tagging of agricultural land while increasing transparency. Technologies like mobile applications, agriculture robots (agrobots), advisory and guidance systems, variable rate technologies (VRT), drone (UAV), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software, AI and Blockchain are scaling up across the agricultural value chain (Figure 2) and geographies. At the same time there are also major constraints such as requirement of significant financial investment, large farm sizes, digital skills and need for integration of the chosen technologies.

Innovative entrepreneurs and service providers are exploring a range of cutting-edge solutions that can fill the gap and needs for various stakeholders in the ecosystem. The end-to-end digital solutions such as production forecasting for Agri input companies, risk coverage and management for insurance providers and financial institutions, output predictability for farming companies and contract farming, improving productivity and sustainability monitoring for governments for providing better evidence-based advisory can help boost the performance at all levels.

While digital technologies are being increasingly used in the agricultural value chain, COVID-19 acted as major trigger point forcing producers, distributors, and consumers to adapt to technology enabled alternatives. The social distancing policies implemented by the governments forced retailers to develop their omni-channel retailing methods to address the customers’ needs through digital applications, social media, and free delivery services. Digital tools and technologies played a crucial role as online platforms, digital payments and digital advisory applications successfully contributed during the pandemic. A study focused on eight countries including Bangladesh, Ghana, Guatemala, Kenya, Malawi, Nepal, Niger, and Senegal indicated many agribusinesses accelerated the adaptation of existing digital services such as digital communication tools, social media, traditional digital media, and digital payments whereas digital innovations such as E-commerce online marketplaces, farmer management solutions, linkage services, and asset sharing services remained low during the pandemic (USAID, 2021a).


It is critical to understand and identify the best fit technology at different stages of agriculture/crop production life cycle. Different phases of crop calendar provide an opportunity for the service providers to understand the farmers and industry needs, innovate, and utilize the right technology at the right time (Figure 3).


Collection of data, its analysis and use for actionable decision making is creating a new paradigm in agricultural technology. It can support precision agriculture, improve information availability while enhancing integration with markets. These advanced technologies are helping farmers to improve their yields, conserve resources and identify the targeted areas in their fields that need quick attention. Widespread initiatives of these technologies and applications of digital solutions can be seen all over the world. This section highlights some initiatives and solutions under the category of digital information management systems, precision agriculture, AI, automation and robots, and E-commerce marketplace.

Digital Information Management Systems

Digital Information Management Systems support farmers in better decision making and optimal utilization of their farm resources and contribute to improving farm productivity and profitability. Extension workers and farmers advisory systems have created value for many stakeholders in the agricultural value chain. It has benefited and increased efficiency for

  • farmers in reducing cost of production and increasing productivity.
  • contract farming agencies in standardizing the quality of inputs, increasing productivity, improved traceability and overall reducing the farm cost.
  • financial institutions in reducing risk and quick disbursements.
  • buyer and exporters in traceability and better access to premium markets.
  • funding agencies in terms of transparency and better evaluation and monitoring of funds and development outcomes.

Some of the successful digital information management systems and advisory initiatives (Table 1) include:

Table 1. Initiatives of Digital Information Management Systems and Advisory

Technology solution


Impact/ Benefits

Technology providers/ programs/ initiatives

Digital Information Management


(also termed as Farmer /agriculture management systems)

22 countries globally

8 applications and 4 solutions providing traceability solutions, applications such as FarmXtension and FarmCloud collect farm level data in real time to improve productivity and reduce losses





Mobile service platform utilizes ICT for information dissemination in the rural parts of the country through agriculture advisory, sharing weather forecasts, and market related information



47 countries globally

Collects farm level data through a B2B business model, uses data analytics, AI/ML and satellite data to provide evidence based advisory through mobile app called ‘SmartFarm’



India, Indonesia

Uses farm level data received from field agents for water quality monitoring, advisory support, and access to markets to shrimp farmers through the mobile app ‘FarmMojo’.  The app is being used to enter data related to water quality, feed input, and health of shrimps which is analyzed to provide advisory to farmers




- ‘eFishery’ provide related IoT solutions to fish and shrimp farmers in Thailand, India and Bangladesh and

- ‘XpertSea’ focuses on aquaculture sector providing services to more than 50 countries


28 countries globally

mobile app to manage agriculture value chains enabling marginal farmers to reach out global markets


‘DataGreen’ app provides advisory, traceability, and supports market linkages




-Provide advisory through mobile app called ‘mGreen’

-provides hardware solutions (IoTs) and fertilizer management machinery that improves farm productivity

-Mimosa TEK


Similarly, ‘RT Analytics’ provides survey and analytics services in the agriculture sector

ICT based groundwater monitoring and management.

(Includes hardware and software including smart card, vending machine, prepaid meter, card reader, card printer and vending station)


-Smart Water Management provide on demand water delivery to farmers

-monitors daily water abstraction volume

-reduced irrigation cost as paying farmers are adopting efficient water application methods, reducing the overall water withdrawal

-reduced energy consumption

-providing financial and environmental sustainability



Barind Tract Multipurpose Development Authority (BMDA)

IVR based information service

Sri Lanka

-agricultural advisories for farmers

-also includes nutrition and health care advisories

-efficient information management system helps in delivering direct messages to farmers through mobile phones

-better informed farmers capable of creating network with local agricultural community


GovidMithuru is an initiative funded by UKAid, implemented by Dialog Axiata PLC with expertise and support from Department of Agriculture (DoA), Sri Lanka and CABI

Farmer Information System (geo-tagging for traceability

27 countries

-improving farm productivity, yield, quality, and income for OLAM suppliers

-mapping and surveying each smallholder farm

-reduces supply chain risk (mitigates forest encroachment and other sourcing risk)

-improves funding efficiency



Farmers Management/

Agri information systems


-Access to farm and business-related information

-improved decision making

-better resilience to address unexpected challenges

-operated by a farmer group, cooperative, or related agribusiness (e.g., buyer, seller, service provider)

-Senegal Farmer Networks

-OB Networks of Ghana


-NASFAM, Malawi

-My Agro

Source: Author’s compilation, adapted from various sources

Various other service providers such as VerifiK8, AgroStar, Farmforce and FarmERP offer end to end solutions to farmer and farmer groups for better decision making.

Precision agriculture, AI, automation and robots

Precision agriculture strategically caters to various temporal, spatial and individual datasets, processes, analyses and integrates it with other information to support better decision making, improving agricultural efficiency, farmers livelihoods, reducing potential environmental hazards to build resilience and ensure sustainability. Some of these initiatives have been discussed in Table 2.

Table 2. Initiatives in precision agriculture AI, automation and robots



Impact/ Benefits

Technology providers/ programs/ initiatives

Precision Agriculture

Thailand, Pakistan

Provides a tool that uses ML to analyze the data collected from field agents and satellite which helps farmers with better yield prediction, managing pest related risks, understanding appropriate amount and time of applying fertilizer and harvesting


Precision agriculture


-Uses UAVs, IoT, AI and big data to provide land planning, spraying pesticides, survey and monitors plants and enhance productivity


-Helps addressing the challenge of labor shortage



Similarly, ‘Nanjing Luhui’ is another service provider that uses integrated smart management system for aquaculture called YU2LE (Fishjoy in English)

Automation and robots


-Automated guided vehicle (AGVs) for loading and unloading

-Robots in Restaurant

Brain Corp indicates a 13% increase in AGVs from pre pandemic times

Weeding robot

France, Japan, Canada

-Provides high precision weeding (range ~2cm) utilizing the RTK GPS and other sensors

-Flexible to be used on a range of crops like carrot, lettuce, mint, etc.

Naio Technologies provides products such as Oz (versatile farming assistant), Dino (vegetable weeding), Ted (vineyard weeding)



-Digitally monitors pig’s health

-reduces labor cost ranging from 30-50% in pig farms

Alibaba launched ET Agricultural Brain; an AI enabled system to monitor pig’s health

Blockchain for traceability


-Trace, monitor and control food supply chain (easy control and management of food batches in case of any contamination)

-farm suppliers need to input the product/ batch details in the system

Blockchain database developed by IBM for Walmart

Electronic traceability service


-Reduce operational cost and improve business efficiency for SMEs

-Provides credibility, confidence, and competitive markets for marginal farmers, improving incomes 

-Transparent information supporting consumers with informed purchasing decision

TraceVerified project was funded by Danish Government

Source: Author’s compilation, adapted from various sources

E-Commerce marketplace


E-commerce marketplaces are digitally enabled platforms that connect multiple buyers and sellers online. These marketplaces create opportunities for micro and medium size businesses to reduce cost and enhance the demand of products addressing the untapped market. Diverse marketplaces have evolved offering products across several categories such as Jumia having a large footprint in Africa and BigHaat focusing on agricultural inputs in India (USAID, 2021b). Such marketplaces are rapidly expanding in Asia-Pacific region due to agrarian dominance and are either owned by tech-companies, agri-businesses or even by private enterprises. COVID-19 has further enhanced the relevance of such marketplaces and is growing rapidly in India and China. Some other initiatives are discussed in Table 3.


Table 3. Initiatives of E-commerce marketplace


Technology solutions


Impact/ Benefits

Technology providers/ programs/ initiatives

E-commerce marketplace


Provides seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, plant growth regulators, and irrigation and farming equipment through the platform


-AgriBegri Trade Link Pvt Ltd


- Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative (IFFCO) collaborated with iMandi, a Singapore-based technology company to start an e-commerce platform (2018) with an investment of US$10.5 million



-Connecting farmers to consumers


-Producers can directly sell to E-commerce service provider


-Social media directly connects the farmers to consumers


-Low cost and helps in improving consumer engagement, posting content and. Monitoring the business

-HealthMe, FarmKaidee, Greenspace and Get Kaset


-Freshket and Farm Fresh



-Social media such as Facebook, LINE, Instagram

Digital Agri Services/ E-commerce marketplace


Selling inputs to farmers, produce to consumers, providing agronomy advisories, packaging and grading of products

DV Excellus’ KHETI

(10,000 farmers in 11 districts)

Digital marketplace to control food waste

(Responsible Consumption and Production)


-Farmers can sell produce that do not meet the standard set by modern -day consumers at a lower price

-Production cost of health food is lowered

-Food rescued by this company does not reach landfills (reducing food waste)


Companies like Full Harvest Technologies (B2B digital marketplace) (AFN, 2019), Imperfect Foods (online grocery delivery service) focus on selling “ugly produce” and avoid food waste and have been sustainable during the pandemic too.

E-commerce marketplace


Shifting from B2B to B2C


-mKulima Young

-Nyarkaera-Easygro accepts money through M-PESA/cash/credit

-Kaomini Niger

-Facebook marketplace is emerging strongly


Source: Author’s compilation, adapted from various sources


Various platforms of agricultural marketplaces are emerging through social media, E-marketplace, E-retailers, E-fresh markets (Lilavanichakul, 2020). Special incentives and targeted awareness campaigns would attract more small holders and SME engagement.


Case study: digital solutions for hydroponic vertical farms

Hydroponic vertical farm concept is independent of the availability of horizontal flat land and is becoming popular in urban areas to increase production locally and sustainably. It uses automated technologies such as sensors, internet of things (IoT), big data storage in cloud, high speed network connectivity, sustainable energy sources, artificial light control, and efficient utilization of water resources aimed at lowering impact on the environment. Further, analytics to achieve better yields are being developed using machine learning and robotics. Although, vertical farming is spreading wide and fast, it has its own advantages and disadvantages. Vertical farms can produce 10-20 times more than the traditional farming, protect against weather challenges, but are currently limited to some fruits and leafy greens products.

Almost a decade earlier, vertical farm technologies like drip irrigation, hydroponics and aeroponics were seen rising and were replicated with successful implementation recorded in many cities (Despommier, 2017).  Although hydroponic initiatives have started growing tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers, constrains of growing soil-based produce like potato and carrots remain but are expected to grow with aeroponic in the upcoming years. The global market size of vertical farming was valued at US$2.23 billion in 2018 increasing to US$4.51 billion in 2020 and is further projected to grow at CAGR of 23.2% between 2021- 2027, with the rising demand for organic products (Patil and Baul, 2019) (Pulidindi and Prakash, 2021) . Some of the key vertical farm players include AeroFarm, Koninklijke Philips N.V., Everlight Electronics, Sky Green and others mentioned in Table 4.


Table 4. Examples of vertical farming implementation

Technology Solutions


Impact/ Benefits

Technology providers/ programs/ initiatives

Vertical Farming (IoT)


Reduces water consumption,

eliminates use of chemical fertilizer and pesticide,

eliminates the cost of logistics and transportation

Implemented by Sky Greens (Private Company) and funded by Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (Ministry of National Development)



Supply in local market directly

The vertical farm uses 99% less water than growing crops outdoor

Energy cost will further go down (Intelligent Growth Solutions, based near Dundee, Scotland providing LED system for vertical farming that cuts approx. 50% energy cost)

CropOne, a Silicon Valley Company tied up with Emirates Flight Catering, growing 2,700kg of leafy greens a day for inflight catering services at Dubai Airport


Other examples are Badia Farms



Installing vertical farming units to grow fresh herbs directly in the supermarket’s aisles, hotels, community places

-Ideafarms, Herbivore Farms growing organic products


-UFarm Technologies providing customized modular farm for individual apartment/supermarket


-Greenopiais, a startup company provides kits with smart self-watering pots, enriched soil, and the right seeds



South Korea

Collaborated with companies like Starbucks, 7Eleven and Subway for supplying greens

NextOn and Farm8



Vertical farming is in its initial stages in Thailand

Companies like Wangree Fresh and NoBitter have initiated in Thailand

Aeroponic and hydroponic system


(Currently more than 200 vertical farms in Japan)       

Majorly automated producing 30,000 heads of lettuce per day

SPREAD started with Kameoka Farm near Kyoto (2007), Techno Farm Keihanna near Nara (2018)

Vertical farming


5000 square meter facility in Fujian province producing 8-10 tonnes of leafy vegetables

SananBio and Noonty




Marks & Spencer (British retailer)

Installing vertical farming units to grow fresh herbs directly in the supermarket’s aisles



Other companies in Gremany are ECF Farm Berlin and Agrilution Systems in Munich

Source: Author’ Compilation, adapted from (The Economist, 2020); (USAID, 2021a); (Farmfit, 2020)

Despite high financial investment and electricity consumption making it challenging for developing economies, the Asia-Pacific Region has been contributing highest revenue to the global vertical farming market. The technology helps in building resilience against water depletion, droughts and rising environmental concerns in the region.


The digital agriculture technologies and service providers are growing in the Asia-Pacific Region, yet a long journey remains for millions of rural farmers and stakeholders. It will take some time for these technologies to scale up although great enthusiasm and initiatives are evident amongst young innovators, entrepreneurs, and startups. Most of the marginal farmers are yet to learn about such initiatives and understand its relevance and value proposition. Socio-economic factors, affordability and availability are being considered as major challenges in the adaptability of digital technologies. The service providers will need to develop revenue models that can be subsidized and made affordable for target farmers. Studies have indicated farmers willingness to accept and adapt technologies as it clearly indicates improvements in their agribusiness but need support from government and relevant authorities to provide the needed infrastructure and skill development (Hashem et al., 2021), (Sinha and Bunyasiri, 2021). Telecom infrastructure, network, and power, access to smartphones, digital literacy, skills and capacity to utilize technology and social issues, such as women’s ownership and access to phone are seen as major constraints in the Asia Pacific Region.


The future of farming needs an integrated approach where farmers communities and stakeholders have structured farm related data and related information systems for an efficient evidence-based decision making. This creates potential for convenient, accessible, and affordable analytics both for farm and business operations. To strategically achieve digital transformation of agriculture, it is crucial to have enhanced engagement of agronomist, extension and farm workers, farmers, and technology providers. Leveraging on technologies would enhance the scalability of such solutions.

Technologies exist but so does digital divide in many agrarian economies. Examining factors that are critical to dissemination of digital technologies and solutions among farmers and stakeholders, such as age, gender and education considering agricultural activities in terms of crop, livestock, or integrated production systems would provide better understanding in filling the gap. Along with innovation and developing technologies, the social, economic, and political systems will also need to improve to provide an appropriate enabling platform for all stakeholders. Further studies on digital maturity index and evaluating digital agricultural readiness focusing on pillars including strategy and culture, capability, data rules, data and analytics and technology (Kutnjak, Pihir and Furjan, 2020) are evolving and such assessments can help countries identify their strengths and weaknesses and focus on improving the digital efficiency in the agriculture sector.

With continuing challenges from unpredictable weather, and scattered and small landholdings, there is a need for more scientific way of farming, harnessing technology, technological intervention in the system and better adaptation strategies. To keep pace with the rising food demand, farming needs to become more technologically driven. It has to be more reliant on real time information thereby enabling farmers to make more informed and timely decisions. The right ecosystem and stakeholders with careful assessment of the existing challenges in infrastructure, digital literacy, connectivity, and policy will lead to new innovations that can accelerate revenue generation for the farmers and eventually contribute to the economy.

With the changing dynamics of agri-food systems, agriculture sector needs to focus on:   

  1. identifying the best fit technology solution at the right time based on the farmers and industry requirement, as key to its successful implementation and adoption;
  2. deploying technologies for data collection at various level for efficient monitoring and evaluation throughout the agricultural value chain;
  3. sensitizing potential benefits of digital solution among stakeholders; and
  4. developing the right skills that encourage young farmers to harness its potential.

Policy recommendations

It also requires to be facilitated through appropriate policies. Some of these include:

  • digital agri-food system requires close collaboration between various sectors notably agriculture, weather, ICT, finance, transportation, governance sectors, amongst others. It requires coordination of policy and strategies as well as institutions across the government so that one builds on the other.
  • it is necessary to formulate policies that encourage youths to build a career, undertake entrepreneurship and promote businesses using digital technologies in agri-food systems.
  • policies to support sustainable financing and risk management to build the digital ecosystem and incentivize the farmers.
  • digital technologies also come with risks of online safety and security of personal data as there is limited understanding of the risks amongst farmers. It is important that data protection and data privacy policies are considered while developing and adopting solutions.
  • policies to build capacity of the demand side so that farmers have confidence and skills to make best use of the new technologies on the positive aspects (such as e-commerce, digital marketing, precision farming, financial services, choosing appropriate technology, etc.) and negative aspects (online safety, data protection, etc.)

Developing cost-effective technologies, enabling efficient technology transfer, exploring entrepreneurship, infusing capital, skill development and utilizing cumulative effects of technology with environmental protection and conserving our natural resources are crucial aspects over the next decade to change the face of agriculture and improving farmer’s livelihood.


The author is thankful to Pridi Banomyong International College (PBIC), Thammasat University.  The author declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article. There is no funding to declare for this article.


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