Food for Thought: Improving Sustainability in ASEAN’s Agri-food Sector

As the agrifood sector grows, consumers become more aware of issues on sustainability of food production and increase their scrutiny on how businesses in the sector conduct themselves, especially in their commitment towards sustainability. Consumers are now more sensitive to products that do not adhere to fair trade practices or have unsustainable farming methods. A 2014 study done by the University of Oxford and Arabesque found that 88% of companies with robust sustainability practices demonstrate better operational performance, which ultimately translates into increased cash flows. 


Sustainable production practices

With advancements in technology today, we can see that some of these advancements have trickled down to positively impact the agrifood sector, improving the way food is produced. Here, we will take a look at some of the efforts taken by leading food producers in the region aimed at improving the quality and sustainability of their produce through the use of technology.

Thai Union, the third largest seafood producer in the world  introduced traceability systems to allow consumers the ability to track a product from its place of origin all the way to the consumer – a key component that benefits producers and consumers by bringing transparency to the entire system. With digital traceability systems, Thai Union was able to introduce a whole new level of transparency to the fishing and seafood industry. This can prevent unacceptable labor and fishing violations, resulting in human rights abuses along with illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Not only can it help guard against IUU fishing and record catch data, but it can also help monitor labor standards on vessels. When you add connectivity, a requirement for real-time fishing data transfer, you can also bring with it the ability for fishers to communicate back to land and bring them a voice at sea. By capturing information digitally, it is possible to share selected data with buyers, regulators, supply chain partners and ultimately, consumers, with levels of details such as the species, location, date, time and even how much fish is being caught. 

Furthermore, crew members, captains and fleet owners are now empowered to use mobile phone chat applications to connect with families and peers around the world while at sea — an industry first for Thai fisheries.

With growing awareness of food safety, consumers are more likely to decide on their purchases based on the origin of the produce and desire to have the produce meet the highest quality and sustainability standards.

Charoen Pokphand Foods PLC (CPF) announced that it will boost the use of renewable energy in its operations and promote sustainability in line with the “circular economy” principles and the UN’s sustainable development goals.Wuthichai Sithipreedanant, CPF’s senior vice president for corporate social responsibility and sustainable development, said the company has adopted the circular economy principle to optimise efficiency in the use of resources. He added that CPF has been proactively looking for solutions to reduce food loss and food waste generated in its operations as well as boost efficiency in the consumption of water and energy. For example, an air chilling system has been introduced in the kitchen at the processing plants as a replacement to water chilling technology which is a common method for reducing the chicken’s temperature. The new system can reduce water usage in the production process by 15% approximately as well as giving less contamination risk since, in the water chilling process, the chickens are cooled down in the same water while they are handled separately in air chilling method. CP Foods also successfully reduced water consumption in aquacultures to 20.71 cubic meter per ton from a previous year record of 25.17 while the amount of recycled water is impressively at 13% of the whole water consumption.

To reduce carbon emissions, Vinamilk’s adoption of energy saving technology is implemented through LED lighting systems in their newly built barns and factories. Lighting systems are set up to respond automatically to the active hours of cows in each barn. At the same time, Vinamilk is planning to replace high-pressure compact lamps in current use by LED lighting systems in all other barns. This can help reduce power consumption significantly, as LED lighting offers the required light intensity for dairy farming with better safety, durability and lifespan. The eco-friendly orientation is also applied to the machinery system by prioritizing the use of energy-saving, low-emission, latest generations for motorized equipment and high-capacity electrical equipment, such as large-scale engines with fuel-saving options  Furthermore, they have implemented a plan to use solar energy in at least 12 dairy farms across Vietnam. With the beginning of 2021, 5 of their farms are already utilizing solar power, while the company will continue to deploy on the entire system during the year.Currently, the 5 farms have a total solar power output of more than 19 million kWh, helping to reduce more than 17.3 million kg of CO2 emissions.  

With increasing concerns about depleting natural resources, sustainable agriculture and food production is crucial in allowing us to develop food supply chains that are not only better for the environment and the workers that they support, but also allow us to develop food supplies that are more resilient to changes in the natural environment around us.

As sustainability priorities come to the forefront with ASEAN’s largest enterprises leading the charge, we look forward to hearing from the region’s sustainability leaders on current developments in sustainability, ESG and the role of technology at the upcoming AIBP focus discussion on The Tech Edge for ESG in ASEAN  on 4 August 2021, Wednesday.

Feel free to drop us a note if you wish to learn more or contribute to the topic of technology and sustainability, or if you’d like to view our report on ESG Initiatives among ASEAN Enterprises.


19 July 2021

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