Digital transformation arrives in the countryside

Technological solutions are aimed at increasing agribusiness productivity

By Sergio Siscaro

Food production is one of the most important sectors of the global economy. The agricultural sector faces the challenge of producing larger volumes, with better quality – and this is especially true for Brazil, a country that is already the fourth largest worldwide exporter in the sector (behind the European Union, the United States and China). In this context, the introduction of modern technologies in the countryside is a key factor to increase agribusiness productivity; and startups dedicated to the development of innovative solutions for the agricultural activity, the so-called agtechs, have played an important role in this regard.

According to the 2021 Agtech Mapping survey, conducted by the Brazilian Association of Startups (Abstartups), investments in agtechs reached US$ 26.1 billion worldwide in 2020 – an increase of 15.5% compared to the previous year.  In the global ranking, Brazil was in 12th place, with US$ 20 million. The survey identified 299 active agtechs in the country, the majority (72.6%) developing technologies aimed at assisting agricultural production and management.

The major obstacle to the proliferation of agtechs in Brazil is the fact that only a third of rural producers in the country would currently benefit from technologies such as big data, internet  and cloud computing – according to a study by the Associação de Engenheiros Brazil-Germany, cited in the Abstartups study. But the opportunities are promising, given the weight of agribusiness in the Brazilian economy.

Innovation in agribusiness

To address these challenges and opportunities, the Chamber of Commerce Brazil-Canada (CCBC) promoted the discussion of the topic in two recent opportunities – after all, like Brazil, Canada also has vast territories dedicated to agricultural production. And the sector has benefited from the country’s vocation for research and development of solutions that contribute to raising the productivity of Canadian agribusiness, increasing its profitability.

At the end of May, the first edition of the Brazil-Canada Forum on Agriculture was held – a joint initiative of the CCBC with the Brazil-Canada Chamber of Commerce (BCCC), with support from Global Affairs Canada through the Canadian Embassy in Brazil and the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply.

One of the days of the event was dedicated to the application of technological solutions in the countryside. On the  occasion, the partner for agribusiness market at consultancy KPMG Brazil, Giovana Araújo, showed how new technologies are reshaping every aspect of the industry value chain. Factors such as countryside connectivity with 5G internet networks, implementation of internet  solutions in agricultural equipment, the construction of innovation ecosystems and the intense use of automation processes in farm administration are some of the aspects of the digital transformation in agribusiness.

The coordinator of the Virtual Laboratory Abroad (Labex USA-Canada) of the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa), Dr. Alexandre Varella, presented on the technological cooperation developed with Agriculture Agri-Food Canada (AAFC). These activities are aimed at the areas of automation, biotechnology, grains, climate change and genetic resources. The vice-consul and IST trade commissioner at the Consulate General of Canada in São Paulo, Marie-Hélène Belánd and, industrial technology advisor to the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP), Ronda Gosselin, presented the opportunities for cooperation between Brazil and Canada in innovation field.

Agtechs Polo

A few weeks later, at the end of June, CCBC promoted a cycle of debates dedicated to the topic at the second edition of the Canada Day CCBC Online Festival. During the event, business opportunities involving the application of technology to agribusiness in two Canadian regions were presented. One of them is Fraser Valley, located in the province of British Columbia. It is the most intensively cultivated area in North America, with 66,780 hectares of high quality land. Agricultural revenue in the region exceeds CAN$ 990 million and supports more than 16,600 jobs – which made Fraser Valley a center of concentration for  companies operating in the agtech segment.

The Abbotsford economic development manager Vern May, discussed how the introduction of technological solutions has contributed to making the region an example of incorporating innovation into agribusiness. According to him, the region has a considerable ecosystem of university education, with institutions that develop curriculum according to local needs.

As a result, several companies are installed in the region, developing technological solutions for various aspects of agribusiness – such as environmental controls, animal welfare, food production and innovative cultivation techniques, among others. “Agriculture done a generation ago has changed significantly. There are many interesting things happening in the region, “he said. “Also, the land has very good quality, and 75% of the Fraser Valley area is devoted to agriculture. This is due to the climate, which does not reach the low temperatures as in other parts of the country”, he added.

Ecosystem on the prairies

Another region very much focused on agribusiness is the province of Manitoba, located in the central portion of the country – in the middle of the Canadian prairies area. Its capital, Winnipeg, stands out as an innovation center, whose main economic sectors are agribusiness, advanced manufacturing, aerospace industry, information and communication technology, and creative industries.

Opportunities for agtech solutions were addressed by Director of Foreign Direct Investment at Economic Development Winnipeg, Alberto Velasco-Acosta; by the president of the International Point of Commerce (InterPOC) and honorary consul of Brazil in that province, Gustavo Zentner and by Protein Industries Canada ecosystem development manager, Camila Jerger.

Winnipeg is one of the best places to develop an agtech business due to a number of factors: it has a favorable ecosystem for agtechs, which works closely  with academy; proximity to large agricultural units, many of them operated by young farmers; access to talent, trained in important educational institutions; and programs aimed at attracting skilled immigrant labor to the region,” said Velasco-Acosta.