Food security is one of the national development priorities for Indonesia, never more so than at present with recent import restrictions introduced to control the spread of Covid-19. Such restrictions have caused delays in key staples such as onion and garlic, resulting in shortages and spikes in prices.
Yet, rising demands from an ever-increasing population – reaching 270 million in 2019 – combined with climate change pose obstacles for future food security, too.
To meet these challenges and to manage the fluctuating demand for agricultural commodities, local agri-businesses are constantly looking to further improve operations and increase food production.
The industry can harness digital technology to deliver this step-change in operations, including via the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence and automation to arm themselves with new capabilities and insights, providing increased visibility, efficiency and productivity across the entire food production journey.
Many of these technologies rely on internet connectivity to send data from smart devices to the software platforms in real time. Therefore, overcoming connectivity challenges, especially in remote areas of Indonesia, where the majority of the country's agricultural production takes place, is critical.
Reliable satellite connectivity, which provides internet and voice connection unreachable by traditional terrestrial networks, is increasingly becoming a critical technology for businesses that are adopting these digital technologies on farms and through the supply chain.
Enabling Connected Farms
For farmers, applying the right amount of inputs, such as water or fertilizers according to individual crop needs, is vital to maximizing productivity, quality and optimize cost. However, knowing what this "right amount" is can be challenging and depends on reliable, objective data.
The challenge is further exacerbated when crops are farmed over large areas, and the cost of deploying human resources to monitor fields is high.
In smart and connected farms, embedded with IoT systems, farmers could expect to rely on a wide range of data-collecting devices such as sensors, drones and precision farming equipment to obtain real-time insights to support intelligent decision-making.
Many of these solutions rely on reliable internet connectivity in the field to push data from device to software platform, but there are still vast swathes of agricultural land in Indonesia that suffer from unreliable or non-existent connectivity, either lacking cellular or broadband infrastructure.
Ubiquitous connectivity from satellites opens up huge possibilities for farmers in remote areas to take advantage of connected farms.
In some cases, this is as simple as connecting frontline worker teams in large plantations to operations centers to prioritize workload and create efficiencies.
Taking it one step further, satellite communications can be a bridge to enable farmers to connect data-producing devices in the field, such as weather stations, sensors, smart farm machinery to business applications.
Consequently, growers will gain visibility on nutrient status and soil moisture content and make risk-based decisions on when and where to apply fertilizer.
In fact, research from Inmarsat showed that farming businesses expect IoT solutions to help increase their turnover by more than 16 percent.
Post-harvest, crop storage, whether on a farm or in a container on the back of a lorry of a ship is a critical component of the food production journey. Indonesia is ramping up investment in agriculture storage infrastructure as commodities can be stored in containers for days or even weeks before processing or re-sale.
For crops in storage, losses can soon occur if parameters such as temperature, humidity or the presence of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) such as ethylene are not at optimal levels.
If produce is left unchecked, changes in conditions can quickly cause deterioration of quality and consequently can lead to failure to meet retail and regulatory requirements, which can result in losses of income for farmers.
The coronavirus pandemic has had disruptive effects on supply chains, with shipments delayed or disrupted at short notice.
This is why the ability to monitor the storage conditions of commodities in real time, wherever they are located, is important since it enables businesses to take measures to avoid post-harvest losses.
Reliable, global satellite networks, paired with low-cost sensor technology are crucial for providing this visibility, whether commodities are on a remote farm or being transported on a lorry or a ship.
The role of satellite connectivity for food production and environmental protection is further exemplified in a three-year fisheries innovation project completed by the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry to support Indonesia's fishing communities – an industry prone to alarming dips in fish stocks due to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
As a result of this partnership with Inmarsat, the world leader in global mobile satellite communication, vessels can now transmit data on their position, speed and track, which helps them stay safe at sea, operate in licensed waters and fish in appropriate areas, by leveraging satellite communications and a dedicated Vessel Monitoring System.
Targeted monitoring, control and surveillance has helped combat IUU fishing and brought about more sustainable fish stocks for Indonesia.
Supply Chain Visibility
From farm or fishery and on to storage, the majority of agricultural commodities in Indonesia have to pass through long and complex supply chains before they even reach consumers.
For instance, the rice supply chain typically consists of cooperatives, millers, wholesalers, provincial markets and many other players before arriving at retail stores and consumers.
In East Java, 90 percent of chili from farmers goes to collectors, while merely 10 percent goes directly to traditional markets. Real-time tracking of consignments during this complex transportation journey, which could potentially involve long truck queues or lengthy custom clearances, can support the ability of businesses to meet delivery schedules and manage large, short-term fluctuations in demand.
Even domestic food logistics chains can pass through remote areas with poor terrestrial coverage and might encounter communication blackspots in potentially dangerous environments, a gap that satellite connectivity can fill.
Satellite connectivity also helps the global logistics sector supply chain to become more efficient. IoT sensor technology analyses the locations and conditions of agricultural commodities whether they are being transported on land, sea or air.
That allows businesses to know where exactly their assets are, the condition of the individual goods – even in transit – and thereby enabling them to take early action to safeguard quality.
Research has shown that the rate of adoption of satellite networks among transport businesses was higher than in other sectors, demonstrating the importance of coverage to facilitate global supply chains.
The Future of Indonesia's Food Production Journey
While Indonesia's agriculture sector has been a significant contributor to the nation's economy for decades and will deliver significant benefits for its population in the future, more progress can be achieved by making better use of digital technologies in the food production journey.
Satellite connectivity may not be the silver bullet, but it can be used in tandem with other connectivity technologies to create a more efficient agri-food ecosystem.
With the country looking to become a major digital economy in Southeast Asia, there lies an opportunity for Indonesia’s agriculture operations to benefit from IoT solutions and satellite connectivity – to achieve a seamless and more connected food production journey that ensures food security while paving the way for other sectors to follow.
Steven Tompkins is the director for agriculture at Inmarsat Enterprise