Japanese model inspires Thai smart farmers

Japanese model inspires Thai smart farmers

Unique arrangement could add value to agricultural products

Products of Sowa Kujuen Co.
Products of Sowa Kujuen Co.

WAKAYAMA, Japan: The government looks set to apply the lessons of Japan’s Sowa Kajuen Co, based in Arida, Wakayama prefecture, as a model for developing smart farming in Thailand.

Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, who visited Wakayama a few weeks ago, said Sowa Kajuen is a unique model because the company was initiated and founded by a group of local farmers.

Mr Somkid said he ordered the Industry Ministry and Board of Investment (BoI) to conduct a thorough study of Sowa Kajuen’s model and map out a business strategy for a Thai smart farming development programme based on the Japanese firm.

The ministry was told to forge a partnership with Wakayama prefecture in the Kansai region to add value to Thai farm products, while the BoI was asked to introduce tax measures to promote startups and smart farming techniques.

Cosmetic products made from oranges.

Mr Somkid said the Japanese firm has used artificial intelligence and drones to manage its mandarin orange and tangerine farming, and for farm product processing.

Sowa Kajuen was founded by seven farming families in Arida, setting up the Sowa Joint Fruit Sorting Association in 1979, focusing on greenhouse cultivation and joint fruit sorting, as well as market distribution.

The association’s 16 members in 2000 founded the Sowa Orchard Co with an initial investment of ¥3.5 million before Agribusiness Investment & Consulting Co, a private firm, stepped in to acquire the company’s stake in 2003.

In 2006, the company set up its own new warehouse to store processed ingredients and products and shortly after expanded production to jelly and jam sold all over Japan.

Mikan orange juice.

Sowa Kajuen Co was established in 2014 as a holding firm and set up Sowa Carnations Co in 2015, mainly to recruit elderly employees.

“R&D plays a very significant role in increasing the value of the Mikan orange,” said Sowa Kajuen’s president and representative director, Shingo Akitake, 80.

Dried orange peel is exported to China to make pharmaceutical products.

The company has launched cosmetics based on oranges, while other products from oranges are being developed to increase value, such as dry orange peel exports to China for use in making medicine.    

Participating farmers use smartphones to collect data and improve the quality of their produce.

Last year, the company started utilising drones to spray insecticide and take crop surveys. This year, the focus is on the online store.

Sowa Kajuen is owned by two private companies and 18 individual investors. Registered capital amounts to ¥99.97 million, while the main businesses are growing oranges, joint fruit sorting, agriculture processing, shipment and sales.  

Sales volume stood at ¥930 million in 2017, with a total of 32 products. The company has 72 employees, all locals in Kansai. The company processes 2,000 tonnes of oranges a year.

The firm also exports its products, mainly to Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak (left) met Yoshinobu Nisaka, governor of Wakayama prefecture, in Japan recently. (Photo courtesy of Government House)

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