Using Satellite Data to Reform Agriculture

Sagri Co., Ltd., led by its founder Tsuboi Shunsuke, uses AI to analyze satellite data to solve agricultural problems in developing countries. He shares his thoughts about technology's potential.
Tsuboi Shunsuke, CEO of Sagri Co., Ltd.

After Witnessing the Poverty Cycle, Determined to Reform Agriculture

Sagri Co., Ltd., headed up by Tsuboi Shunsuke, provides three services. These are: Sagri, which uses automatically generated farmland plot information to streamline soil analysis to better understand soil conditions, crop growth, and so on; Actaba, which provides visualization of abandoned farmland; and Detaba, which is used to understand the planting status of crops in fields. Using satellite data and AI, these applications instantly convert time-consuming, labor-intensive tasks into data. Actaba is an innovative technology that has already been officially introduced in several municipalities, reducing survey-worker hours by 90 percent.

Although Tsuboi is now active in IT, he first launched his own business in the field of education, planning space-related lessons for elementary through high school students to learn about the wonders of space. "Ever since I was little," he says, "I always dreamed of becoming an astronaut. I want other children to dream big in the same way." Uchu Co., Ltd. (meaning "space" in Japanese), which Tsuboi founded, offered diverse learning opportunities on such subjects as rockets, satellites, and lunar development.

Uchu conducted rocket workshops in Sri Lanka among other activities around the world.

In 2016, Tsuboi's business trip to Rwanda, Africa, led to a significant turning point in his life. "Farmers in Rwanda survive on a minimal income, becoming victims trapped in the cycle of poverty that has continued from generation to generation. Because of this situation, where children cannot even talk about having dreams, I felt the keen need for agricultural reform in developing countries."

Coincidentally, around this time, the EU's Copernicus Earth observation program began providing satellite observation data on the atmosphere, land area, and climate change to the private sector, free of charge. For Tsuboi, an engineering graduate with working knowledge of satellites from his time with Uchu, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Tsuboi's passion is evident in his responses during interviews. His passion for space has not diminished since his childhood.

Small Loan Program for Farmers Using Satellite Data

The idea for a small loan program for farmers was conceived during a business trip to India to develop the Sagri, agricultural field management application. Farmers who lack credit and are thus unable to obtain loans for fertilizer and pesticides can use the estimated harvest data calculated by Sagri to obtain loans from financial institutions. After the launch of the app, as many as 2,000 applications were received. However, due to the experimental nature of this initial attempt, loans from financial institutions were not forthcoming. The business was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but now Sagri is once again seeking to acquire loans from banks. The company is also introducing the system, partnering with private sectors providing agricultural assistance in India and Kenya.

An image of Sagri at work. The system can automatically generate information on agricultural plots and check soil conditions, as well as the growth of crops under cultivation. Patent acquired: Patent No. 7053083

Agri-tech Shared by Tokyo with the World

Sagri is currently expanding globally, targeting principally ASEAN countries and South America. It aims to have 100 million people utilizing its app for 100 million hectares by 2030, and it is also promoting a carbon credit business to trade in greenhouse gas reductions.

IT service companies like Sagri are expected to experience further development in the future. Tsuboi says, "It is important for us to grow as a company by utilizing subsidies and systems." Tokyo prioritizes human resource development and startups, making it a city where entrepreneurs can truly be active. In the future, we look forward to seeing more young entrepreneurs like Tsuboi Shunsuke.

Tsuboi Shunsuke

Born in Kanagawa Prefecture in 1994. Graduated from Yokohama National University. In 2016, while still at university, he founded Uchu. In 2018, he developed the Sagri application and simultaneously established Sagri Co., Ltd. His goal is agricultural reform in developing countries. In 2021, he was selected as one of the "Innovators Under 35 Japan 2021" by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a member of the "Global Shapers Community" by the World Economic Forum.

Sagri Co., Ltd.
Interview and writing by Takano Tomohiro
Photos by Tonomura Seiji
Translation by Amitt