How Japan is using digital farming to make agriculture sustainable

rethink sustainability

How Japan is using digital farming to make agriculture sustainable

Japan has one of the lowest food self-sufficiency rates out of all the major world economies. Caloric intake was 79% in 1960, but has fallen sharply, and currently stands at around 40%.1  The country’s goal is to reach 45% food self-sufficiency by 2030, but it faces many challenges. Two-thirds of the nation’s surfaces are mountainous, and the number of farmers in the country is shrinking, and increasing in age (67 years old on average).2

To help, the government has turned to digital farming. It hopes that smart agriculture will enable it to build a more cohesive and sustainable food programme. In 2016, Japan’s Cabinet Office announced that it seeks to turn agriculture into a growth field, using Big Data, the Internet of Things (IoT), and Artificial Intelligence (AI).3 It has pushed forward agricultural reforms, with the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (MAFF) releasing a roadmap for business expansion into smart farming technologies and services.4 With the help of producers, municipal governments, the National Agriculture Research Institute, and the private sector, there are over 121 product sites conducting smart agriculture projects.5

Digital agriculture has the power to be truly disruptive

Digital agriculture has the power to be truly disruptive. Farmers can use sensors, communication networks, unmanned aerial vehicles, AI, robotics, and other parts of the IoT for data analytics, management, processing, decision-making, and implementation.6 They can use their vast array of data points, thanks to weather satellites, radars, and also Earth observation and remote sensing systems, to monitor weather conditions, temperature, moisture, etc. Satellite imaging and GPS can also be used to monitor the application of fertilisers and water usage, or soil conditions in real time, and to forecast crop yields. AI can help farmers make more informed crop choices and select the best hybrid seeds. It can also help develop precision agriculture in order to improve harvest quality and accuracy.7 Additionally, mobile connectivity can help farmers achieve higher profitability and economic stability.

Japan believes that digital farming will help it overcome projected water shortages, allowing even inexperienced growers to manage their use of water more efficiently, and increase productivity in areas with limited access to water. “Fertigation”, an agricultural technique, allows farmers to use narrow pipes to place drops of water and fertiliser at the roots of growing crops, as opposed to spraying a large amount of water with sprinklers. Japan is using IoT and AI to make advances in fertigation8, with data being collected from soil and light sensors. AI analyses the data to determine the right amount of water and fertilisers needed, making the approach far more sustainable.

Japan believes that digital farming will help it overcome projected water shortages, allowing even inexperienced growers to manage their use of water more efficiently, and increase productivity in areas with limited access to water

According to the Yano Research Institute, the market for intelligent agriculture in Japan is expected to almost triple from a sales revenue of JPY 15.87 billion in 2019 to a projected JPY 44.28 billion in 2025.9

 

Harnessing the value of Natural Capital

At Lombard Odier, we believe that digital agriculture will be an important part of the sustainability revolution that is needed to transform the future. According to EY, by 2050, the global population is expected to increase by almost 40% to 9.6 billion people. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) predicts that the agriculture industry will need to produce 70% more food while only being able to use 5% more land.10

At Lombard Odier, we believe that digital agriculture will be an important part of the sustainability revolution that is needed to transform the future

We have a vision for a sustainable future – based on a Circular, Lean, Inclusive and Clean (CLIC™) economy. This digitally-enabled model thrives on innovation, exploits inefficiencies, seizes hidden value and celebrates the disruption of longstanding business models. It is imperative that we separate economic growth from its ecological impact. We believe that economic growth will thrive due to more sustainable production and consumption, not in spite of it.

We see agriculture and forestry as immediate sectors where change needs to occur. Under existing models, we fail to value natural capital - in what we refer to as a take-make-waste economy. We believe digitalisation is a key part of the solution as an enabler of a more sustainable, regenerative future in agriculture.

Achieving sustainability in agriculture will in turn affect the whole food chain, as well as impact industrials and utilities, and it is why Japan’s approach is being mirrored in other countries globally.  The global digital agriculture market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 10.26% from USD 11.527 billion in 2019 to reach a market size of USD 20.713 billion in 2025.11

In Japan, digital agriculture is at the early stages, but recent initiatives suggest a promising future for a sustainable future.

 

1 https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2019/08/06/national/japans-food-self-sufficiency-rate-hits-lowest-level-25-years-due-drop-wheat-production/
2 https://www.ecos.eu/files/content/downloads/publikationen/REPORT_Smart_Farming.pdf
3 https://www.ecos.eu/files/content/downloads/publikationen/REPORT_Smart_Farming.pdf
4 https://www.ecos.eu/files/content/downloads/publikationen/REPORT_Smart_Farming.pdf
5 https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/sites/751935f0-en/index.html?itemId=/content/component/751935f0-en
6 http://breakthrough.unglobalcompact.org/disruptive-technologies/digital-agriculture/
7 https://www.forbes.com/sites/cognitiveworld/2019/07/05/how-ai-is-transforming-agriculture/
8 https://www.japan.go.jp/technology/innovation/digitalfarming.html
9 https://www.ecos.eu/files/content/downloads/publikationen/REPORT_Smart_Farming.pdf
10 https://www.ey.com/en_uk/digital/digital-agriculture-data-solutions
11 https://www.researchandmarkets.com/reports/5215177/global-digital-agriculture-market-forecasts

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