That’s the view of Isabelle Decitre and Vandana Dhaul from investment and advisory firm ID Capital, the organisers of the Future Food Asia Awards.
Dhaul told us there was a groundswell of start-up activity in India, but much of it was stemming from the public sector, mentioning one initiative that has nurtured 120 start-ups and filed over 100 patents.
However, the next step is to scale up, and that will likely require private investment and expertise.
In addition to initiatives spanning traditional ag-tech innovation, Dhaul highlighted fin-tech as an emerging area to watch.
She said that 70% of the smallholder farms have zero to minimal access to credit facilities in India, leading to a number of start-ups striving to fill the gap.
For China, Decitre said much of the start-up innovation stemmed from academia, with surprisingly few coming from individuals or small corporate entities.
However, she was encouraged by the Chinese government listing the ‘future of food’ in its agricultural Five-Year Plan.
In January, the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs included cultivated meat and ‘future’ food in its official plan, for the first time.
However, no-one yet knows how the nation will move to regulate such products, or how it may seek to protect its traditional protein and dairy sectors.
China is currently the largest importer of meat, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
“China is always very interesting. There is a string of initiatives endorsed by its government or the municipalities. Those who can survive this competition can survive a lot of things. China is also smart in picking sectors,” said Decitre.
As for Vietnam, Decitre suggested that this could be the next market to reach the ‘inflection point’ for ag-tech and foodtech innovation and investment.
She noted that Vietnam’s GDP was starting to reach the point that, in other countries, had seen agri-tech in particular begin to take off, most notably through digitalisation and the Internet of Things (IoT).
The Philippines is also seeing an increase in activity, both from an ag-tech perspective and via plant-based product innovation.
In the Middle East, the UAE has seen a huge rise in agri-tech and foodtech interest, much of it spurred by a desire to increase self-sustainability.
Dhaul said that the UAE has set up 177 hydroponic farms since 2019, with around 100 producing organic food.
This opens up investment opportunities for start-ups involved in clean energy, and also carbon credits, Decitre added.
She also noted that Qatar was exploring cultured meat opportunities, while Israel has long been a hotbed of innovation.
Japan and Korean mystery
Given their advanced societies and economies, Japan, and to lesser extent Korea, have not really made their mark in the foodtech start-up scene.
“Logically, it should have happened,” said Decitre in relation to Japan. “But it never did.
She noted that both nations had world-class universities, but suggested that the traditional career path in major corporate organisation could still be seen as being more attractive than launching a start-up.
A taste of FFA
According to ID Capital, APAC’s agriculture, food and technology businesses attracted over USD$7bn in funding during the first half of 2021.
Since its inception, FFA has empowered over 60 APAC start-ups to present their cutting-edge innovations and distributed more than US$1m in awards.
This year, ten finalists will compete for the grand prize of USD$100,000. Entries close on April 1. It will also stage a conference in June, where FoodNavigator-Asia is a media partner.
Decitre said: “The start-ups should have an impact, approved concepts and undergo the first round of funding. We need to see that they have overcome these first hurdles.”