Climate-Smart Farming and Seed Technology to Build Resilient Farmers: Q&A with Neelamani MuthuKumar, CEO of Operations of the OLAM Agri

Neelamani MuthuKumar, CEO of Operations, OLAM AGRI

Ahead of the Asia-Pacific Agri-Food Innovation Summit this month, we caught up with Neelamani MuthuKumar about building new partnerships with OLAM Agri’s  focus on helping the farmers to produce more with less input through digitization.

Recent world events have highlighted weaknesses in current supply chains, particularly for countries who rely heavily on imports. What are the most important areas to focus on in order to build supply chain resilience?

Recent world events have put unprecedented stress on supply chains. It’s highlighted the risks of over-reliance on limited sources in the face of sustained disruption to supply chains. As a result, food prices are rising and food insecurity is growing in certain parts of the world. Diversification of origin is a critical step in diluting this risk. At the same time, support for domestic production should be bolstered if and where possible to reduce the reliance on external sources.

Improved production at the source is important to build capacity into supply chains, particularly as unpredictable weather patterns impact harvests. There’s much to be done here, from improved tracing and transparency to educating farmers in more sustainable and climate-smart practices. Finally, there need to be strong trade agreements in place between countries, with well-defined contingencies in place to manage the risk of future disruptions. This is true of the private sector, too – building a network of trusted and reliable business partners has never been more important.


Who are the most important players in the development of a secure food system in Asia? Where is collaboration needed?

The food supply chain is incredibly complex – and every player is important. The development of a secure food system in Asia must be a coordinated, collective effort that aligns the efforts of the public and private sectors, farming communities and consumers. This needs to happen at every level and at every step in the supply chain.

At the policy level, there need to be robust measures in place to guarantee the fair trade of food and agricultural products. Supply chains need to be more resilient and sustainable. We need to continue empowering farmers to improve productivity and we need to work with our partners along the supply chain to reduce post-harvest loss.

How can agtech innovations sit alongside traditional agricultural practices to help build long-term resilience?

To understand how agtech innovations can work to support traditional practices in building resilience, we must first understand the challenges faced by the farmers. In the developing areas of Asia and Africa, for example, smallholder farmers need help with basic farming practices as they usually lack more advanced skills.

In these cases, our focus is on helping the farmers to produce more with less input. This support takes many forms, including training and support in farming practices, mechanisation, reducing post-harvest losses, and managing fertiliser and water usage. We also work to build more resilient farmers, with a focus on areas such as climate-smart farming and seed technology. At the same time, we’re working to develop the business acumen of smallholders, with training in basic literacy and finance, more direct market access and reduced reliance on middlemen. Digital tools help democratise this process, making advice, information, and products more widely available than in the past. Reducing the labour drain in farming also promises to drastically improve long-term resilience. This includes a focus on removing the obstacles faced by women, youths, and marginalised minorities, and to empower them to take on more significant and impactful roles in farming.

Why is the Asia-Pacific Agri-Food Innovation Summit an important date in your diary? Who are you hoping to meet?

We are a global agribusiness that works with millions of smallholder farmers. We have a strong presence in emerging markets, particularly Asia and Africa. The Asia-Pacific Agri-Food Innovation Summit is a great opportunity for us to meet new and existing partners in the region, share our experience and learn from others. We are always looking for new ways to collaborate and to build more resilient and sustainable food and ag supply chains for a more food-secure future.

Join Muthukumar in the opening plenary session on Wednesday, October 26 titled, ‘ Conflict, COVID, Climate Change: Building Resilience to Supply Chain Disruptions’ alongside speakers from PwC, ADB, Pepsico and Thai Wah. View the full agenda here