Dato’ Joel Low, Co-Founder, CEO & Executive Director
The UN has estimated the world population to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, calling for urgent and effective measures to tackle the impending food shortages. Among the primary causes of the already existing food scarcity are urbanization, climate change, and lack of skilled agricultural workers. As the rural population continues to decline, farmlands are being increasingly exploited and degraded along with stressing the water resources. Excessive use of fertilizers to increase yields, reduced crop rotations, livestock overgrazing, and deforestation further aggravate the problems associated with food production. As a result, eco-friendly, high-tech farming, coupled with advanced food management practices, has become the need of the hour.
Faced with the formidable challenge of sustainably feeding everyone, the world is witnessing a rise in agriculture technology startups that are revamping farming techniques with the use of artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things (IoT), automation, and more. All of the innovative AgTech startups have one common goal—to improve efficiencies, reduce food and resource wastage as well as pesticide usage, and increase yields across the entire agricultural value chain. For places with physical constraints such as land scarcity, startups have even devised techniques to grow food vertically using minimal space and advanced technologies to produce more food quickly. One such company is Singapore-based Agrivo International, specializing in agricultural value chain investing in Asia. Not only does the company work on indoor farms in urban spaces as part of its vertical farming strategy but also invests in agricultural technology and plantations across China, India, and Southeast Asia. As an agriculture portfolio company, Agrivo focuses on high-growth agricultural projects within the ASEAN region.
Sommelier to Agricultural Investor
Dato’ Joel Low, a former sommelier at Les Amis, a French fine-dining restaurant in Singapore, founded Agrivo with an immediate aim of investing in and incubating agricultural technology startups. After completing his hospitality degree, Low joined Les Amis and later moved on from recommending wines to become a consultant involved in restaurant acquisitions before setting up Agrivo. It started with an investment in a 350-hectare pepper farm in Kampot, Cambodia. And since pepper takes three years to harvest, Low’s partner suggested him to start a company to invest in other firms from the agriculture field. Next, after founding Agrivo, Low invested in organic mushroom farms in Malaysia, which required two weeks from seed to harvest.
“There is a huge demand for mushrooms in Asia.
The GAX platform connects producers to domestic and international markets, leading to the improvement of farmers’ incomes by creating the world’s first licensed token sale platform
Besides fresh produce, we have recently launched our Mushroom Kingdom Shrooms Bites, which are nothing but dehydrated mushroom chips. We also have Mushroom Growth Kits for educating students as well as corporates on how mushrooms grow, which everyone loves. The younger Singaporeans do not know where our food comes from, so we partnered with the Ministry of Education to visit schools and teach kids how fresh produce is grown,” says Dato’ Low, co-founder, CEO, and executive director at Agrivo.
Agrivo’s decision to further expand into high-tech farming in Singapore was not just a result of the natural progression as a portfolio company but also the greater benefit of contributing and investing in best agri-tech farming practices for all. “Every year go to Japan and the US to not just discuss sustainability as a business but the benefits of encompassing environmental, social and good governance holistically in the agriculture sector. With high-tech farming practices, we want to encourage young talents to get excited about agriculture again,” states Dato’ Low.
Cutting-edge Indoor Farms
As part of its vertical farming strategy in Singapore, Agrivo has formed a joint venture—Frontier Agrotech—with Archisen, a local technology startup, to build hydroponic indoor farms across Singapore. Located in shopping malls, warehouses, and office building, these farms can be remotely controlled from a single pane of glass. Urban farming is not entirely a novel idea in Singapore, which is already home to indoor micro-farms. However, most of these are run by hobbyists. Frontier takes it a step further by leveraging IoT to operate an increasing number of sensors and crunch data as well as control scores of micro-farms from one application. By optimizing and transforming indoor spaces into farms equipped with state-of-the-art technology, Frontier Agrotech aims to enhance food securities in urban spaces.
"Not only does Agrivo work on indoor farms in urban spaces as part of its vertical farming strategy but also invests in agricultural technology and plantations"
Frontier’s indoor farms are self-aware, hi-tech farms and feature high-powered LED lights as the source of energy along with an advanced vertical hydroponic growing system. As a result, the farms can grow an array of leafy vegetables and herbs throughout the year with minimal water consumption. The process claims to use 90 percent less water and 50 percent fewer nutrients compared to traditional farming techniques.
Besides, the crops cultivated are free from agrochemicals such as pesticides. Frontier focuses on strategically selecting the locations of these farms in order to deliver the freshest harvests in the shortest possible time. With an in-house farm management system and sophisticated crop analytics module, Frontier allows for multiple farms to be effectively monitored along with recording each and every aspect of a plant’s growth. All of this data not only helps maintain a high volume of fresh and affordable harvest but also assists farm experts in improving the growth recipes of crops.
A 2,000 square feet Frontier indoor farm is capable of producing about three tones of vegetables in a month. Since these farms are not restricted by weather conditions as opposed to greenhouses, the can produce vegetables throughout the year. Frontier now plans to establish more such farms in the near future, not only across Singapore but also in Cambodia. In addition to Frontier, Agrivo is continually looking for collaboration opportunities, investments, and partnerships to establish its foothold as the leading urban farming systems provider in Singapore.
Global Agricultural Exchange
“Agrivo Incubation for Singapore Startup,” Agrivo’s project focusing on supporting two Singaporean startups in the agricultural space, won the Singapore Business National Business Awards 2017 for the agriculture category. The company’s winning project entailed successfully incubating the aforementioned Frontier Agrotech and Agrivo Mycosciences, which oversees the mushroom business. Furthermore, to position itself a leading startups incubator and accelerator in the agriculture sector, Agrivo is in the process of working with several government agencies. The company has also recently announced the establishment of its Global Agricultural Exchange (GAX), with an objective of revolutionizing the agriculture sector ecosystem with stringent environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria. By using blockchain technology, GAX will ensure total transparency and traceability from the farm to the table, providing proof of origin of produce, as well as increase farmers’ profit margins and enable restaurant brands to showcase the best of proven local produce.
“The GAX platform connects producers to domestic and international markets, leading to the improvement of farmers’ incomes by creating the world’s first licensed token sale platform and tokenized utility exchange for agriculture. This will help farmers achieve a much more sustainable income—up to 50 percent of profits will go to the farmer—along the entire supply chain worldwide. This platform will give all agricultural companies an e-marketplace to connect with B2B and B2C consumers and see who and what comes from where,” adds Dato’ Low. With food continuing to be a major global problem, Agrivo will work with larger producers as well as co-operatives to help the community as a whole. As long as people need to eat, longevity across the entire food value chain is necessary, and that is what Agrivo promises to deliver.