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In AI, farmers find a productive ally

By PRIME SARMIENTO in Hong Kong | China Daily | Updated: 2023-09-25 07:11
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Phuvin Kongsawat used his training as an engineer to set up a company that delivers artificial intelligence-based solutions to test the quality of rice.

The chief executive of Easy Rice Digital Technology in Bangkok has no formal training in agriculture, but growing up in Thailand, the world's second-biggest rice exporter, he was familiar with rice production.

Phuvin's research showed how time-consuming it was to manually inspect samples of rice kernels to determine variety, quality and moisture content.

Easy Rice offers an AI-powered scanning technology said to be not only more accurate than any inspection done with the naked eye but that can also analyze a 600-grain sample in five minutes.

"You (can use AI to address) pain points," Phuvin said, referring to adulteration of rice varieties and the inaccuracy of rice inspections.

Easy Rice says that since it put its products on the market in October 2021 it has secured more than 200 exporters and about 20,000 farmers as customers.

The company is also expanding to Vietnam, another key rice exporter, and developing a similar technology that can inspect durian and coffee crops, Phuvin said.

Easy Rice is an example of how Southeast Asia is using AI to transform its agriculture. The region is not just home to major commodity exporters such as Thailand and Vietnam, but also a population of more than 600 million that has a growing demand for food.

The member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have been increasingly using AI to build a productive, sustainable and climate-friendly farm sector.

In the Philippines the International Rice Research Institute is using a $2 million grant from so it can use AI to assess its rice gene bank. This can accelerate the development of high-yielding, climate-resilient varieties.

One of the key projects in Malaysia's AI roadmap for 2021-25 is to build autonomous robots to harvest oil palms. Malaysia is one of the world's biggest exporters of vegetable oils.

Siva Kumar Balasundram, associate professor of precision agriculture at Universiti Putra Malaysia, said AI can resolve labor shortages in the plantation industry, because robots can be programmed to do the "dirty, dangerous and difficult" jobs such as applying farm inputs on agricultural land.

"We can put all this information into an AI processing platform and then you can actually do that (work) using robots. That will solve a lot of bottlenecks."

AI can also ensure that you apply the right amount of fertilizer and pesticide, which will not only boost yields but also reduce production costs because it will cut waste, Balasundram said.

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