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Tackling the Effects of El Niño on Small-scale Farmers through Agritech

The Indonesian agriculture industry is always in need of technological innovations. In 2018, around 15 million farmers in Indonesia were identified as small-scale farmers (petani gurem), with 0,51 to 1 hectare of land ownership. These farmers continue to rely on traditional farming methods even though the current conditions, such as the climate crisis, expose them to greater harvest failure risk. Most horticulture farmers, for example, still rely on rainwater and water retention basins.

These small-scale farmers often face logistical challenges, from difficulty in obtaining cheap seeds and fertilizers, to insufficient irrigation for their crops. Thus, water scarcity during the dry season exacerbates the problems that small horticulture farmers face. These problems are further compounded by the threats of El Niño and other climatological phenomena that aggravate the challenges faced in the agricultural sector.

El Niño is a weather pattern that occurs in the Pacific Ocean, where the surface temperature increase prevents rain clouds from reaching Indonesia, Southeast Asia, and Australia, resulting in less recorded rainfall in those regions. El Niño has in the past significantly decreased agricultural productivity in Indonesia due to inadequate irrigation systems. In the horticulture sector, El Niño threatens productivity in tomatoes, vegetables and fruit crops, shallots, and pepper, which all have lower levels of drought tolerance.

Although the onset of El Niño in Indonesia strongly correlates with drought and delayed rainy seasons, it can also lead to unpredictable weather patterns, especially during the end of El Niño and the start of the rainy season. Rain intensity usually peaks at the end of El Niño and the onset of the rainy season, increasing the risks of flooding. This might lead to a loss of productivity in the horticulture sector, especially for all-scale farmers utilizing hydroponics, as humidity, temperature, and light intensity greatly affect the growth of horticulture plants.

To prevent loss of productivity in the horticulture sector, the adoption of agricultural technology is vital. Agricultural technology such as smart watering systems, plant monitoring

systems, and sensor systems, can offer an alternative solution to tackling the shortage in water supply. These systems can assist small farmers in monitoring the growth of their crops,

reducing water consumption, and preventing crop failure by understanding and maintaining

desired conditions for their crops.

In Indonesia, innovation in agriculture technology is driven by the private sector. The past few years have seen the emergence of agricultural startups in Indonesia, including BIOPS Agrotekno, founded in 2016. The startup aims to reduce Indonesian farmer’s dependency on traditional farming methods by introducing smart farming and precision agriculture systems.

Providing an alternative to deal with related issues, BIOPS Agrotekno offers ENCOMOTION, i.e. an Internet of Things machine-to-machine technology for providing precise and automated irrigation by measuring the temperature, humidity, light intensity, rain intensity, and wind speed and direction. These features represent viable uses of smart technologies in agriculture for precision and sustainability.

With ENCOMOTION, sweet bell pepper productivity in covered areas increased by 40% compared to traditional horticulture methods. Furthermore, operational costs were also reduced by half, while water usage decreased by 40%, increasing water efficiency and cutting the time spent on crop watering. It shows that the use of technology can minimize the risks of crop failure due to weather conditions. Adopting such technology can also help farmers to obtain detailed information on their crops' needs and progression.

The constantly changing climate conditions induced by El Niño and their impacts on the agricultural sector has prompted BIOPS Agrotekno to further improve their efforts in addressing farmers’ issues by developing several other systems, namely pest and disease early warning systems, rain prediction, and harvest prediction. Ultimately, a comprehensive monitoring system to improve horticulture harvest might be accessible for small farmers.

It is important to note that while the private sector plays an important role, collaboration and support from the government and the community are required to encourage the widespread adoption of technology.

Multi-sectoral collaboration is required to improve the agricultural sector. Collaboration

which includes ministries/institutions, industries, and research institutions. As an agricultural

technology company, BIOPS Agrotekno has also established cooperations with several stakeholders, such as the Indonesian Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), Indonesia-Japan Horticulture Public Private Partnership (IJHOP4-2) by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) under the Directorate General of Horticulture at the Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture (MOA), and the Center for Indonesian Policy Studies (CIPS).

In addition, BIOPS Agrotekno participates in the Promoting Research and Innovation

through Modern and Efficient Science and Technology Parks Project (PRIMESTeP) program under The Indonesian Ministry of Education, Culture, Research, and Technology, and held by

ITB Innovation Park whose aims to support the understanding practicality of agricultural technology and to advocate exposure of the young generation to modern agriculture.

Promoting agricultural innovation and technology can involve a series of challenging

adoption processes, including but not limited to social development, training and education, and multi-stakeholder collaborations. It is important to encourage the private sector, such as BIOPS Agrotekno, to continuously develop inclusive agricultural innovation and technology to improve and modernize Indonesian agriculture.

This article is a collaboration between the Center for Indonesian Policy Studies and BIOPS



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