How do we accelerate innovation and achieve sustainability in the AgriFood sector in Asia? Industry leaders and innovators discussed avenues for technology-enabled solutions in food production and consumption at an executive roundtable organised by SGInnovate in partnership with Enterprise Singapore.
Singapore is currently almost entirely dependent on imports for supplying its nutritional needs. In the coming years, however, the city-state envisions transforming itself into a country leading the charge in future-proofing the global AgriFood ecosystem. To realise this goal, a nationwide framework is needed to support innovation across the food supply chain, in areas ranging from food production and packaging, to distribution and nutrition.
At the same time, innovation in AgriFood needs to be multidisciplinary, as issues in this field often comprise a wide scope of considerations, including policy, culture and technology. For example, while smart farming tools can aid in improving efficiency and quality of output, technology vendors must also engage smallholder farmers during their design and production process to understand concerns such as land ownership, local policies and labour in order to facilitate the adoption and implementation of these technologies. Meanwhile, food and beverage (F&B) companies need to dissect consumer perceptions about healthier food, before introducing substitute ingredients or products such as alternative proteins.
With this understanding, SGInnovate brought together a group of industry leaders, innovators and investors to discuss the changes needed to accelerate AgriFood innovation in Asia. Beyond the technologies in development, success will also be determined by partnerships among stakeholders and a contextualised understanding of consumers and businesses. Here are three key factors that were raised at the round table that will bolster the region’s AgriFood ecosystem and advancing innovation on this front.
Showcasing commitment through investments
Whether adding a product line, reformulating existing ones or establishing a new company altogether, it can take a long time for AgriFood innovation to advance from idea to market. Furthermore, heavy investment is often needed for building facilities, prototyping and testing, and later manufacturing and equipment maintenance. Without these resources, many innovations remain at the R&D stage and are unable to reach commercialisation.
To support this journey and sustain the pace of innovation, policies and programmes need to aim at encouraging venture capital to invest in entrepreneurs and provide corporates with a framework to outsource their innovation needs to startups and SMEs in the AgriFood space.
As large corporates and startups tackle common problem statements, their mindset must shift towards understanding each other’s needs and tapping on each other’s expertise. Besides product development and testing, these partnerships can also benefit from thought leadership and open dialogue between stakeholders.
This will provide more opportunities for different players in the ecosystem to integrate their activities, achieve goals more efficiently and create greater value for the market.
Aligning goals in the ecosystem
As an increasing number of stakeholders from academia to industry now leverage emerging technologies to address specific AgriFood problems, it is also important to ensure they are able to work together effectively in order to maximise these efforts. New innovations in development are often effective in solving their intended problems, but compartmentalised in its impact. For meaningful changes to arise, stakeholders must break silos and ensure that contextualised goals contribute to the larger, shared agenda of AgriFood innovation for productivity, sustainability, efficiency and resilience.
Where corporate-startup collaboration is concerned, establishing a common agenda also allows companies to align and engage with multiple startups in one go, carving an accelerated roadmap for trialling ideas and prototypes before they enter the market. By exploring innovation opportunities in a distributed manner, large organisations can minimise potential delays or discontinued projects.
Moreover, ensuring alignment between stakeholders also helps organisations adhere to existing regulations and certification standards. Harmonised standards are crucial for evaluating food quality, labelling products and making health-related claims as well as assessing the potential value of AgriFood startups and their innovation ideas. These will deliver more concrete details on the exact sustainability and nutritional impact of companies in the sector. Overall, identifying specific motivations like animal welfare and ensuring food integrity will be key to developing solutions and products that are highly valued in different markets.
Positioning Singapore as a node for AgriFood collaboration
Collaborative endeavours along the value chain can help bring about tangible improvements in food production and consumption, meeting consumer needs while creating a more secure food system in tandem. By combining efforts, communities can take conscious and collective action to push for AgriFood innovations and make food security a whole-of-nation agenda.
On the regional level, Singapore can also position itself as a central point for Asian nations to work together and transform the food system. With several AgriFood corporates, startups and investment firms headquartered in the city-state, it would be useful to consider regional needs and trends when defining problem statements and devising innovations to plug gaps.
To this end, initiating dialogues with AgriFood leaders across the region will be key to understanding areas of need as well as promote technology and knowledge transfer. Stakeholders like farmers, retailers and research institutions can also contribute different levels of expertise and on-the-ground perspectives to inform domestic and regional innovation agenda.
As AgriFood products move through global networks, Singapore can play various roles in establishing trust across borders, such as investing in food traceability technologies and leading efforts to harmonise standards from different countries. Moreover, it can facilitate startups to scaleups challenges and ultimately help food innovations enter the market faster.
Translating AgriFood innovation into impact
Transforming the AgriFood ecosystem requires integrated efforts from stakeholders across the value chain, with a strong and shared agenda that encompasses meeting nutritional needs, achieving sustainability and delivering economic growth. Through dialogues, alignment calls and evident demonstrations of commitment, Singapore can transition from a nation solely relying on global supply chains to an AgriFood innovation hub capable of meeting local and regional needs.
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