Speaker and Advisory Board member, Fabio Mota, Vice-President at Raízen, Brazil’s largest cane sugar producer, shares the key drivers for agtech innovation in the region and strategic priorities for his business now and post-Covid-19.
What’s the biggest challenge facing agriculture in South America – what keeps you up at night? What gap does agtech innovation need to fill?
Brazil has one of the most fertile soils on the continent for agriculture, in addition to great diversity in biomes, abundant supplies of natural resources and cutting edge research in the sector, but we still face some difficulties with regard to solving deficiencies such as infrastructure, increased productivity, requirements of environmental protocols and investments in innovation.
In agribusiness, technological innovations have helped rural producers and companies in the agricultural sector to improve their operations by creating version 4.0 and guaranteeing better results in their crops, increasing their productivity and / or reducing their operating costs. In order for there to be widespread use of technologies in the field, it is necessary to expand connectivity in the country, another factor inherent to the sector that is still very insufficient. Sensing and digitizing data, in addition to hyperconnectivity, become a major challenge to actually achieve better results and think about predictive and more assertive actions in the equalization of processes in the field.
How has Raízen’s innovation strategy been set up to address some of these challenges? Where are the opportunities for partnerships and collaboration?
Almost 3 years ago, Raízen, the largest sugar and ethanol producer in Brazil, founded one of the great hubs that encourage open innovation in the country, named Pulse. Today, it is already an important gear in the company’s innovation structure and collaborates directly with the development of a group of 28 startups, among them 21 already have pilot projects being tested in the company. In addition, Pulse has the support and collaboration of major players in the Brazilian market to develop projects, such as CNH Industrial and Mitsubishi.
Among some projects, I would like to highlight the Agro IoT Lab initiative, an application development program for the field focused on Internet of Things with the aim of expanding connectivity, headed by large companies such as Vivo, Ericsson and Esalqtec, a technology incubator at Brazilian higher education institution in Agriculture, Esalq and Pulse. In terms of opportunities and collaboration, there is a worldwide trend to increasingly promote the connection between large companies and startups, not only in agribusiness, but in all areas that involve the development of new digital solutions, that come together to drive the development and improvement of solutions.
In this dynamic, agtech startups focused on agribusiness hope to have success and the financial return of any investment made for a new technology. On the other hand, large companies seek innovation and ways of developing and quickly applying to business. That way, when big companies join the startups, a win-win relationship is created. The results are very fruitful, as the agtechs find space and infrastructure for the development and testing of their projects, which can often also become even a financial contribution necessary to grow and expand quickly. However, the company has greater security of investing in something with less risk of going wrong and the agility that it seeks so much in its operations.
What emerging technologies are you most excited about in the agtech space? What are you most looking forward to seeing at the World Agri-Tech summit in Sao Paulo in September?
Technologies linked to the field deserve attention in their entirety because they are all interconnected. New proposals for precision agriculture such as those involving sensors in equipment in the field, robotization, Big Data analysis, Artificial Intelligence and also new business models for the agtech sector are undoubtedly themes that I hope to find at an event like the World Agri-tech Innovation Summit.
What are your plans over the next 12 months – how are you looking to expand on what you’ve achieved so far?
As a tech or agribusiness professional, the mission is to keep updating and following the trends presented by the market. I maintain an optimistic view on the arrival of new technologies and the advancement of those that already exist, and for that it is important to follow the scenario of how new innovations will be designed and developed. Only then will we have devices to build good strategies and greater assertiveness in decision making in the field.
In your opinion, how will the coronavirus pandemic shift the dial on industry priorities? What could this mean for advancements already made in more environmentally sustainable food production?
We still live in a scenario of many uncertainties and instabilities, but not only the agribusiness sector, but also the world economy, will suffer impacts caused by the pandemic. The technology in this moment of crisis, makes the sector look and think even more about innovations and solutions adhering to the new global scenario, contributing in a way to mitigate the impacts generated by the crisis, to the global society as a whole.