When farming outdoors, you are at the mercy of mother nature. For centuries, farmers have waned against the elements and developed hardy and resilient crops. During the green revolution, farmers began to experiment with hybrid seeds, chemical fertilizers and pesticides. What we are seeing today is that crops are developing resistances to many of the inputs designed to protect them. This problem is only accelerated by the onslaught of more extreme weather events including heatwaves, droughts and flooding.
In Indonesia, much like the rest of the world, reliance on imports, climate change, pest resistance, degraded water and soil quality and a move towards the city and away from agriculture has sparked the need for local agricultural solutions to empower and encourage small-holder farmers.
The Indonesian startup and 2019/20 TFF Challenge Finalist Neurafarm created an AI-powered crop diagnostic tool to detect and provide treatment recommendations for agricultural diseases and pests.
What started as a team of four in 2017, has quickly grown to eight employees in 2020. Neurafarm founders, Febi Ifdillah, Lintang Kusuma, Pebriani Artha and Naufalino Fadel are passionate about agriculture and supporting local smallholder farmers and helping them increase yields in the face of climate change. In an interview, Lintang explained that 40% of crop failures in Indonesia are caused by pests and diseases.
The core feature of Neurafarm is Dr. Tania (Tani means farming in Indonesia), a smartphone app that can identify symptoms of crop diseases, provides treatment recommendations, keeps a catalogue of information about plant disease and offers an interactive chat function. The team’s goal is to make Dr. Tania a one-stop-shop for farmers when it comes to crop concerns.
Putting knowledge into the hands of smallholder farmers
Neurafarm’s Dr. Tania will help guide farmers in protecting their crops, to ultimately increase their yields and help farmers save costs and their ecosystem by reducing their reliance on fertilizers and pesticides. If farmers have more knowledge in their hands about what is happening to their crops they will be able to treat crops appropriately and effectively without spending more money than necessary on pesticides and fertilizers.
The power of digital technology
Many people in Indonesia don’t have the digital tools right now to be able to access the power of precision agriculture. Few farmers have smartphones and fewer have access to the internet but they are hopeful that infrastructure requirements will soon catch up and for now, they are focused on creating community and improving their AI technology through partnerships with institutions and larger companies and research and development.
By combining technology and agriculture, Neurafarm wants to also encourage young people to enter the agricultural sector. One of the founders Febi is excited because “digital solutions are really scaleable and there are a lot of interesting things to be added”.
Adapting to COVID-19
COVID-19 has painted an even more urgent picture for agriculture and farmers across the world. With economies and supply chains disrupted and with more work is taking place online, communities also have to shift to online forums. To try and build community and continue supporting farmers during COVID-19, Neurafarm created a Facebook Group to stay connected, a group that now has over 4,000 members! In addition, the team hosted a Hydroponics Online Class in May with all proceeds going towards providing and distributing crops to underserved farmers in Indonesia.
What’s next for Neurafarm
The current version of Dr. Tania is just the beginning and in the future, the app could be used to help distribute yields, and support with harvest and production or help increase the value of farmers’ products. There is not a lot of money being made by farmers right now in Indonesia, and so Neurafarm and Dr. Tania is going to the root of the problem, by empowering farmers with more knowledge and ensuring their product is protected and valued from seed to sale.
Indonesia has the largest economy in Southeast Asia. As with other developing countries in Asia-Pacific, more than half of its workers are in the informal sector, including farmers. Febi says that “[Indonesia] has lots of potential. The tech that is available today and tomorrow could help us increase our productivity and one way to do that is to use precision agriculture.”
Neurafarm is also thinking about expanding to other markets and is looking at Singapore as a promising prospect because the country is heavily reliant on imports but set the goal of producing 30% of its food by 2030 through urban farms utilizing hydroponic, aquaculture and vertical technologies.
We will continue sharing about Neurafarm’s journey here—make sure to check our blog regularly.
Neurafarm and the other Finalist and Boost Teams are currently taking part in the virtual TFF Academy 2020, which is an open-sourced acceleration program anyone can join. Just sign up to the Digital Labs and make sure to request to join the TFF Community Facebook group here where we will keep an active feed for peer-to-peer discussions and relevant conversations!
Written by Canadian TFF Ambassador Emma Tamlin