Agriculture briefing

Big Data and drones could bring more precision to Indonesia’s farms

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Indonesia needs new technology to transform its underproductive land
Indonesia needs new technology to transform its underproductive land

Related tags Indonesia Susilo bambang yudhoyono

Not long in office, Indonesian president Joko Widodo plans to grow rice production by 30% each year—a sum that is vitally necessary for the country to be self-sufficient in rice by 2017.

The problem he faces is that the vast majority of farmers live and work hand to mouth, and with official figures putting those who operate the land at over 40% of Indonesia’s quarter-billion population, the scale is huge. 

Jokowi’s task is made all the more onerous after years of falling yields compared to neighbouring countries. Although productivity has been improving, it has been doing so slowly at a domestic level while Malaysia and Thailand, for example, have been witnessing much more of a growth boom. 

Indonesia is one of the countries where agriculture is among the biggest sectors in the economy​,” said Bambang Kristianto, analysis director of the government’s statistics agency, BPS. 

But when we talk about technology, Indonesia is up to 10 years behind Malaysia, because Malaysia is much better in terms of their development of agricultural technologies.​”

To help put things on track in Indonesia, where the agricultural sector contributes over 15% to GDP, a group of local bright young things is bringing high technology to the country’s fields and orchards through “precision farming​”.

More common in better developed agricultural settings than Indonesia’s, precision farming brings sensors, aerial imagery and Big Data to the countryside. The result is better contextual information for the farmer to base their critical decisions on.

Ci-Agriculture, a spin-off of Indonesian data analytics firm Mediatrac, adapted the precision farming model so it would work even at Indonesia’s underdeveloped level. 

It took the methods of the parent, which offers its big data analyses to companies like World Bank, Nestlé and Telkom Indonesia, to create three farming products that use data from drones and weather sensors to monitor all sorts of essential metrics, from soil condition to meteorological trends.

The three products analyse individually the supply chain, farming conditions and crop insurance to determine the best insurance model for the farmers. 

Largely because of the underperforming unorganised agriculture segment, Indonesia seems to have a great deal of potential for tech entrepreneurs and start-ups looking to find digital solutions to land challenges.

TerralogiQ is another company seeking to bring geospatial data analytics to offer real-time tracking of objects and people in Indonesia so users like plantation owners can monitor the whereabouts and performance of their assets.

On a multinational level, FoodNavigator-Asia last month reported that Cargill would soon begin flight training for aerial drones to monitor its fields in Indonesia.

With the drones, we are pushing the envelope in sustainability​,” the company said at the time. 

They will help us map and monitor valuable pieces of forest land that need to be protected, and improve land and water use, so that we can grow more on the same amount of land and manage our environmental footprint better​.”

Unfortunately, critics accused the government of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, for neglecting agriculture over many years, levelling charges that lawmakers were happier to bask in income from oil and gas, banking and the property boom. Indeed, farming has seen around 100,000 hectares of land lost to factories and the property industry since 2010.

At the same time, the number of farm workers has dropped declined from 40.6m to 38.8m over the decade from 2003.

But now Indonesia has a president who has openly named agriculture as a priority, and its small but vibrant technology segment has found an interest in the land. 

There is an enormous amount of work for both the public and private sectors still to do to put the country’s agriculture on track. One thing is clear: technology will be at the centre.

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