Meet our new Innovation Manager, Wei-Li Woo
Welcome to the team Wei-Li! Can you tell us a little about your experience, particularly in the agriculture and AgriTech space?
My most recent role before Grow Asia was in the Singapore Food Agency (SFA)’s Industry Development and Partnership Division, where I was the account manager for local livestock farmers (yes, there are still farms in Singapore!), focused on creating a conducive enabling environment for increasing local production. I also worked with alternative proteins companies (eg. cultured meat and insect protein companies) on overcoming regulatory and other barriers to entry. I have been closely following the agritech space in Singapore and regionally as it has grown rapidly over the past few years.
Prior to SFA, I worked in trade and investment promotion as well as for a refugee resettlement NGO in the US. I also completed a Master of Arts in Development Studies, focused on Agrarian, Food and Environmental Studies, from Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands.
What, in your perspective, are some of the key factors hindering the adoption of smallholder AgriTech solutions at scale?
Lack of knowledge of local farmers’ contexts remains a significant barrier to entry for start-ups and contributes to the challenge of scaling up. Start-up founders need tools to access knowledge about local (eg. province and village level) realities faster and more accurately since this can impact the suitability of their business models and analysis of their target market. This would also help them to avoid having to customize their solutions, thereby cutting costs. One way for start-ups to access this information is by working with a corporate partner to access their supply chain data. However, start-ups also benefit from access to other farmer communities that could function as case studies. NGOs like Grow Asia can play that facilitating role and at the same time gather valuable insights that can be shared among the network.
Smallholder farmers are often less comfortable with purely online interactions and generally prefer chat-based technologies that start off with conversations with someone the famer has already met in-person. This partially explains the low adoption rate for farming apps such as e-commerce platforms. Smallholder agritech solutions need to remain relationship-driven, with a blend of online and in-person elements to drive adoption. The tricky part is keeping acquisition costs down while maintaining the personal touch and accelerating farmers’ direct engagement with a digital service.
What excites you most about the Grow Asia network?
I am excited to experience the multi-stakeholder platform in action. Cross-sectoral collaboration in our globalized agri-food sector is crucial. I am excited to learn about local realities from Grow Asia's six Country Partnerships (CPs) across the region and to strategize together on how the Digital Program could help the CPs advance their goals and work in priority areas. The opportunity to help start-ups, ecosystem players and corporates to leverage on the insights of the Grow Asia network to tangibly impact smallholder farmers is also very exciting.
Lastly, I am looking forward to working on regional agricultural issues and to connecting resources (financial and otherwise) in Singapore with regional stakeholders to make a positive impact on smallholder farmers’ livelihoods.
What are your priorities for your first 6 month in this role?
Continuing with existing program elements like the Digital Learning Series, will be important to maintain the connections between the agritech community and the visibility of the Digital Program as we ride out the rest of the COVID-19 pandemic into 2021.
I look forward to learning more about the six Country Partnerships under Grow Asia and understanding each country’s unique challenges to be better able to facilitate useful connections between agritech ecosystem players and the Grow Asia network. I plan to explore how the Digital Program could support the CPs’ priorities and to assess - together with the CPs - how this could be implemented.