How startups are bringing Japan’s agriculture into the digital age

Agriculture has always played a central role in Japan. The cultivation of rice, in particular, has had a lasting impact on Japan’s society and is still important to the population’s nutrition today. In order to secure, increase and streamline our own production, more and more new technologies are now coming into focus.

Until now, Japan has been heavily dependent on foreign exports when it comes to food. The country produces about 40 percent of the food it consumes itself. About 12 percent of the country’s area is under cultivation, which is cultivated by over a million farms.

Agriculture and Web 3.0

Like so many industries in Japan, they are hard hit by the aging population. Without young talent and innovation, Japan’s agricultural industry faces a bleak future. Therefore, more and more start-ups are appearing in the country, which will introduce new technologies in agriculture with innovative ideas.

One of the most unusual projects has existed since March 2022 and is called Metagri-Labo. The goal of Metagri is to connect agriculture and blockchain technology to economically revitalize disadvantaged regions.

According to Metagri, a network will be created by 2024 that will allow farmers to bring their goods more directly and more profitably to end consumers via blockchain. The project also includes so-called NFT (non-fungible tokens), which have been the subject of controversial discussions in recent years, especially in digital art.

Together with the Shimada Watermelon Farm in Kumamoto Prefecture, southwestern Japan, Metagri released a limited edition NFT collection of twenty watermelon images. The special feature: with the purchase of one of the NFTs, the buyer not only received the right to own one of the images, but also received a real Shimada melon.

There are already Metagri NFT collections for tomatoes, grapes and rice, and a set for lemons will follow soon to support the island of Nakajima with Shikoku. In addition, Metagri maintains a digital farm in the Metaverse, where project members can meet and exchange ideas.

Whether from space or on the ground – agriculture is evolving

The Compass system, which was developed by the startup Tenchijin Inc. from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, focuses on new cultivation areas. Compass collects satellite data and evaluates it using big data methods to evaluate land areas for optimal rice production.

Compass aims to enable agriculture worldwide to identify locations with good conditions for growing high-quality rice. Changes in ecosystems as a result of climate change can also be recognized in order to respond in good time with adapted cultivation methods. According to the founder of Tenchijin, the system should even take into account socio-economic factors of the observed land area.

In Nagano Prefecture, on the other hand, work is being done practically with the automation of agricultural processes. The startup Emi Lab based there is developing a robot for spraying pesticides.

The cube-shaped robot moves on four wheels, can be controlled remotely and, thanks to its design, efficiently reaches all parts of the plants to be treated. The robot can carry around 100 liters of pesticides with it. There is not much left for the farmers themselves to do: They only have to give the robot a route, which it then follows via GPS.

Emi Lab is currently producing the robots to order, and a copy costs two million yen (around 14,400 euros). The company hopes that farmers will share their experiences with the machines to make them more popular. Drones as agricultural tools are also becoming more and more popular in Japan. They can e.g. used for fertilizer.

Whether the new technologies will be sufficient to make Japan’s agriculture future-proof in the long term remains to be seen. During the pandemic, the demand for jobs in agriculture increased and more young people moved from the city to the country. However, it is uncertain whether this development will continue after the end of the pandemic.

Leave a Comment