Thursday, 6 July 2017

Smart Farms served up fresh and hot for UK and Thailand?

The TDRI article by Nipon Poapongsakorn and Phunjasit Chokesomritpol on Agriculture 4.0 raises some food for thought on farming in UK and Thailand:

With 90% of Thai farms mechanised and the Electronic Government Agency developing satellites and soil sensors Thai agriculture should be best-placed to develop the Precision Agriculture Khun Nipon mentions.

And the Hom Pathum rice from Kanchanaburi with a yield increase of 27% highlights both the potential of boutique rice and crop gains.

With 50% of all farmland increasing crops from 878kg per rai to 1,118kg the potential is there. Yet 43% of all farms are under 10 rai and a further 25% just 10-25 rai.

While agricultural R&D dropping to 0.2% of GDP from 0.9% is a backward step. For, rather than just reduced tech costs or moves to larger farms surely there are qualitative improvements possible with Smart Farms and UK-Thai cooperation.

Even on instances of koi pla liver cancer in Isaan with over 20,000 deaths.

##UK farming growing?##

UK farming has troubles of its own with most farmers now over the age of 65 - Private Eye magazine detailing the rise in farm injuries from such elderly workers: 30% of fatal farm accidents are for those aged over 65. Agriculture with just 1.4% of the UK workforce accounted for 20% of work fatalities. Fatal injuries at 7.73 per 100,000 workers compared to 1.94 in construction.

Bumble bees have suffered a catastrophic decline and impact on crop growth through failure to manage hedgerows and prevent mono crops that reduce biodiversity.
And UK lags woefully behind nations such as Ecuador and India in tree planting - the latter with 50M trees planted in one day for Climate Change resilience.

UN Year of the Soil promoted by Kasetsart University highlighted potentially just 6 more harvests through degraded top soil.

Climate Change a factor with hotter summers and longer winters and fiercer storms and variable rainfall affecting crop yield.

And the contribution to Climate Change in non-seasonal foods and food miles in transport.

The Global Seed Bank featured in a New European newspaper article by Stuart Thompson Senior lecturer in Plant Biochemistry at University of Westminster, already under threat form flooding despite being in one of the remotest parts of Norway and supposedly Climate Change resistant to protect its bank of seed varieties.

UK farming employs less than 1% of the population but still 475,000 workers and covers 75% of UK land. While Resilience and Food Security issues are a concern with 40-60% of food imported and the risk of Pandemics such as Bird Flu or Dutch Elm disease. Last Xmas was nearly cancelled due to an outbreak of bird flu in much of UK's turkeys.

##East Kent farming##

And food is the largest UK manufacturing industry - or at least value added - with the switch to a service economy, worth £109BN and 3.8M direct and indirect jobs through the supply chain.

In East Kent with its rural heritage as The Garden of England as depicted in The Darling Buds of May TV show that rocketed Catherine Zeta-Jones to stardom. Or Charles Dickens waxing lyrical on its apples and cherries arming is crucial. Or Charles Darwin detailing the origin of species that forms the basis for much of the world's knowledge of the natural world.

While, Brexit silliness aside, Kent as UK's most European county must surely be able to capitalise on its Polish and Romanian and Hungarian links - as well as Benelux - in cuisine and culture if nothing else? The KCC faded links with Bacs-Kiskun and Virginia are an affront to good governance - and the dynamic Governor Terry McAuliffe Breakfast Club further food for thought on malnutrition, obesity and diabetes.

90% of the orchards have been lost since WW2 and even the most ardent non-Brexiter concerned at bland apple crop imports such as France's Golden Delicious. While Climate Change has positively affected Kent's vineyards with a resurgence not seen since Roman times of fizzy wines.

The last main fishing fleet in the South East works from Ramsgate harbour - battling the elements and lack of policy in combatting overfishing and reseeding the oceans. All to stock East Kent's booming Cuisine Culture from the Michelin-starred Sportsman pub in Whitstable, to Surin Thai restaurant by the harbour in Ramsgate (try the sea bass!).

##Smart Farms and ASEAN and UK##

A recent business trip to Vietnam saw discussions with students concerned at potentially going back to the farm, yet enthused at the possibility of Smart farms and the range of AI, sensors and robo-automation.

While Thanet Earth mega-greenhouses the largest in Western Europe provide supermarket crops and the basis for space food. And the thriving fruit and veg stalls of Ramsgate market days on Friday and Saturday provide a golden thread from farm gate to High St.

And rare Kent Orchids form the basis of a garden market economy that Thai orchids have already developed.

Surely the basis for UK-Thai agricultural industry cooperation is rooted in several measures in my politics and advertising work:

* Kasetsart links with say Hadlow Farming College in Kent and Kent University
* TDRI links with Produced in Kent and Sustain and Mayor of London Food board think tanks
* Kent and Thailand lead on filling the Svalbard Global Seed Bank faster: only 930,000 seeds out of a capacity of 2.5BN so far - and tighter links to the other 1,700 seed banks eg Kew Gardens Millennium Seed Bank in nearby Sussex
* Links with Kent's Givaudin flavouring and perfume experts and UNFAO UK and Thailand eg Laotian vanilla pods
* Surin's Rice Research centre plugged into the seed banks and IRRI
* A Thai-UK supermarket group to analyse and forecast consumer and market trends whether Thai pineapples or Argentine grapes
* True mobile links with Microsoft - the UK campus the largest outside USA- and Thai Farmers bank and City of London for technology developments
* Discovery Park links with Thai STEM parks and DaNang science park

Another Green Revolution to again triple food production is a must as hungry mouths to feed increase from 7BN to 11BN over the next 50 years. The potential of a 70% increase in food production made easier with DNA technology such as CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing.

While 40% malnutrition in Cambodia and Laos just across the Thai border and almost within sight of the glittering shopping malls of Bangkok and ever-present 7-11 and Boots Lotus and Makro suggests far more can be done.

And Discovery Park STEM science park, as it develops, with links to Sittingbourne Science park and Kent University and CCU University campuses in Canterbury and Broadstairs, and 6th form colleges, must surely focus not just on vaccine research and manufacture for malaria and TB growth markets.

And indeed Cancer and Dementia - but also Smart Farm technology to ensure that Kent's Farm to Pharma strategy grows.


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