Although modern civilization could not exist without it, agriculture persists as one of the most impoverished industries in the world today. While many continue to make significant strides towards reducing global poverty as a whole, recent data has revealed that rural communities feel its most severe economic and social pressures. One can observe evidence of this trend across multiple continents, but some of the clearest illustrations of this phenomenon are Central and Southeast Asia, where rapid regional growth has noticeably failed to translate into a substantial decrease in rural poverty. In places like India, Pakistan, Thailand and other Asian countries where significant proportions of the labor force continue to work in agriculture, many producers and communities have seen inconsistent poverty reduction despite the decreasing of overall poverty rates. For some, the solution to this problem is technological, with companies like Ricult Inc. dedicated to alleviating rural poverty in Thailand and Pakistan by providing farmers with the modern tools to work smarter rather than harder.
Four MIT graduates founded Ricult in 2016 to bring the benefits of modern technology to farmers and smallholders in Pakistan and Thailand. Since then, the company has worked to develop mobile technologies designed to aid farmers in developing countries through remote satellite monitoring of crops and analytics which allow them to sow, fertilize and irrigate crops more efficiently. Farmers can also use Ricult’s system to track weather patterns and even for financial services such as loan applications. These and other features not only empower farmers with powerful data but also facilitate more transparent and efficient relationships between producers, creditors and suppliers. The entire suite of services is easily accessible via the Google Play Store and Ricult reported crossing the 150,000 users threshold earlier in 2020.
Rural Poverty in Thailand
Over the past 20 years, Thailand has been successful in lowering its national poverty rate with the introduction of new industries, but much of this growth has not trickled down to the bottom of the economic ladder. Instead, conditions have worsened for the country’s agricultural sector since 2013 due to growing investment in the competing manufacturing and service industries. In addition to these trends, Thailand’s current lack of modern agricultural infrastructure has made many farmers vulnerable to drought and other natural phenomena. With nearly 35 million people still dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods, technological development in the sector is paramount for keeping many communities above the poverty line.
Digitizing Thailand’s Agricultural Sector
As CEO of Ricult Thailand and co-founder of the company, Aukrit Unahalekhaka has set out to combine the agricultural advancements of developed economies to smallholders across the country. In 2018, Ricult reported a nearly 40% increase in profitability among farms and smallholdings which use its platform, resulting from a 50% increase in yields. In a 2018 statement to MIT News, Unahalekhaka stressed the importance that such growth can have on small farmers and their families, explaining that it may have the potential to provide rural children with quality education and health care.
Recently the Thailand branch of the company reached a seed funding milestone by partnering with several of Thailand’s major banks, securing $5 million which it plans to use to expand its operations across the country and continue to digitize farming operations. In addition to this domestic growth, Ricult has also announced future intentions to expand into the nearby countries of Indonesia, Laos and Vietnam. In keeping with the company’s guiding mantra “those who feed us, need us,” Ricult continues to offer its platform free of charge to smallholders and producers in order to alleviate rural poverty in Thailand.
– Matthew Otey