Agritech during Pandemic: Product Development Adaptation, Urban Farming, and Food Sector Resilience

Large-scale social restriction has affected been impactful on some activities that require face-to-face presence at work. Farmers is one of which. Like it or not, the forefront of food security must continue to go down into the fields (or ponds, for fish farmers), especially in the March-April 2020 harvest season—right, unfortunately, when Covid-19 was in the middle spread out big.

Although agricultural activities are still permitted to continue during community quarantine, farmers generally experience weakening in terms of purchasing power. From, the Farmers Exchange Rate index has been observed to decline by 1.73% from March to April. This figure is more or less a portrait of the welfare of farmers during when a pandemic.

From the standpoint of the technology business, efforts to improve the standard of living of farmers have actually started a long time ago with the presence of agriculture technology (agritech). Agro sector players, such as farmers and fish farmers, contribute to domestic food security, and the escalation of this effort is supported by the presence of agritech to strengthen the management of agro-industry.

Agritech and food sector is receding

In today's pandemic plague situation, it is quite apparent that there is a decline in the conditions of Indonesian farmers. Habibi Garden, an Internet of Things (IoT) company focused on agriculture, agrees. The Telkomsel Innovation Center (Tinc) portfolio company, which develops IoT products for monitoring, watering, and fertilizing plants automatically sees farmers using their technology sales to decline by 80%. "As an illustration, the initial price of paprika is Rp30,000 / kg, now it is Rp5,000 / kg," said Habibi Garden CTO Toni Prabowo.

These farmers who originally planted crops for the needs of malls, hotels, and supermarkets, with quality products such as paprika, melons, and other high-value crops. From Toni's description, it can be seen that sales are declining, which ultimately requires them to change their business through plants that can be sold in traditional markets. Until now, Toni acknowledged that home-scale vegetables were the best-selling product sold by Habibi Garden farmers.

Fisheries are also experiencing more or less the same thing, mainly due to the impact of the economic crisis which has infected parts of the world. In contrast to some agro commodities, the shrimp sector is one of the cornerstones of the domestic fishery export commodity; Indonesia is an importer for other countries such as the United States, Japan, and several European countries.

Along with the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic in Indonesia in the range of February to March 2020, the exporting country was affected because many restaurants were closed, which caused the price of Indonesian shrimp to decline and also led to declination as well as profits generated by shrimp farmers.

"So there is an increased price competition because shrimp exporting countries such as China and Ecuador are also trying to get existing demand," explained Liris Maduningtyas, CEO of JALA, an IoT startup that focuses on efforts to increase shrimp harvest through the integration of MESH devices with management systems online—which is also part of Tinc's innovation portfolio.

In addition to the export-import factor which is a big challenge, the declining supply of shrimp fries (shrimp seedlings) also makes the shrimp sector players have to get used to. "Because of restrictions on activities outside the home and work from home (WFH), activities in germination are also reduced, which causes fries to become scarce," Liris said.

Adapting, planning for agro in new normal

As a startup, agility is the blood and pulse in developing innovation, and a pandemic requires startups to be more agile. Habibi Garden adapts to making IoT-derived products for automatic watering from home. "Hopefully, this can increase food security from home yards. And for our farmers, many of the lands are made idle temporarily, ”explained Toni.

The realization of urban farming thus prevents agricultural activities from sinking despite the pandemic, which then brings benefits both for farmers - and food security, at a macro level. Evidenced by the initiation of Habibi Garden during the pandemic in the form of a campaign to farm in the yard of the house with automatic watering products. Plants from farmers who are moved to homes are assisted by the Habibi Garden guide application.

The result? Habibi Garden innovation becomes a solution for various levels of society. "Many housewives or millennials who have no activities at home can do useful activities such as farming from home. Also, there are a lot of vegetable farmer trees that we buy to help us sell to homes to be cared for in the yard, "said Toni.

Adaptation is also carried out by JALA, especially from the business side. Naturally, IoT products that can help the monitoring process of shrimp ponds from JALA certainly make it easier for farmers amid activity restrictions. However, the innovation did not stop, and JALA started to stream streams that had never been worked on as an IoT startup. "We are starting to help shrimp trading. We have a large database of shrimp farmers, which makes it easy for us to shift to other business models in the shrimp sector, "explained Liris.

The scheme: Liris and the JALA team started by forecasting the results of the farm with its technology, which then showed the results of the forecast to potential buyers including processing companies and supermarkets. "Good appreciation comes from shrimp farmers. So far it is still in Central Java, and demand has begun to increase in areas outside Central Java. "

Liris admitted, for now, shrimp trading will continue to be maximally given that the market is still being worked on, and JALA does not rule out the possibility of making it one of the revenue streams.

All efforts were executed not without the support of strategic collaboration. Although nothing new for her, Liris admitted that the pandemic opened the opportunity to collaborate with other digifish and aquaculture startups—even distribution of the shrimp trading activity was assisted by Amboja, a local startup producer of fresh vegetables and fish.

 What Toni runs and the Habibie Garden team are also supported by a collaboration involving the agricultural marketplace, delivery services, and home-based farming businesses; the urban farming campaign allows crops from home yards to be bartered between households—sounds like a return to the ancient Greek trading system, but, hey, look at how technology makes it so much more sophisticated!

The Covid-19 pandemic provided great lessons for Habibi Garden and JALA to adapt. "We are increasingly learning to continue to create solutions that can increase the productivity of people who stay at home or create services that reduce the need to travel from home," concluded Toni, representing the spirit of an agritech startup in this crisis. With technology, all can remain at home and support their primary needs, including food. WeI don't know how long this will last; at least, Habibi Garden and JALA made it happen today

Posted by TINC Admin