How technology is making Indian agriculture smarter, inclusive and more resilient
The Indian agriculture sector contributes nearly 18 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) and 40 percent of the total rural Net Domestic Product (NDP). Despite its significant contribution to driving socio-economic growth, Indian agriculture still faces a number of challenges. These range from issues such as low productivity to climate change, and lack of access to finance.
Pain points in Indian agriculture
Lack of knowledge about latest methods and technology: A majority of Indian farmers are smallholders who rely on traditional resource-intensive farming techniques. They have limited access to modern machinery, logistics and storage facilities, and information such as data on weather patterns, soil health, and protection of crops.
Unpredictable climate changes and lack of access to information and forecasts to mitigate these: Adverse climate change is one of the main threats to sustainable agriculture in India, since it causes soil degradation and reduction in crop yield and produce. It also leads to increased attacks by pests such as locusts, as was seen most recently in December 2019 where over 25,000 hectares of crops were destroyed in what experts term as the worst-such attack in 25 years. A report by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) says that problems caused by climate change could reduce agricultural yields by up to 9 percent in the medium term (2010-2039). Farmers are especially vulnerable to the adverse effects of natural disasters and climate change, like droughts and floods, including loss of crops, livestock, and infrastructure, to reduced production and loss of income. The unpredictability of such disasters makes it even more challenging for farmers. But technology is changing all that, as we will discuss later in this article.
Supply chain inconsistencies: The agricultural supply chain in India is unorganised and complex, and suffers from a lack of transparency and coordination between various stakeholders. The result is large scale wastage of agricultural produce. According to a study by the Central Institute of Post-Harvest Engineering and Technology (CIPHET), nearly 16 percent of fruits and vegetables, and up to 10 percent of cereals is wasted each year. Multiple stakeholders such as farmers, aggregators, food processors are not on the same page or willing to share information openly, leading to inconsistent data. The pre and post-harvest journey of the produce needs to be entirely traceable to improve accountability and transparency. An improvement in transparency about processes and communication among all stakeholders in the agricultural supply chain will lead to reduced wastage and increased consumer trust.
Lack of access to finance: According to the Economic Survey 2020, in order to achieve the Indian government’s target of doubling farmers' income by 2022, there is an urgent need to address basic financial challenges such as access to credit and proper insurance coverage in the agricultural and allied sectors.
How technology is changing the narrative
With the increasing digitalisation of India, today technology can address most of the challenges that farmers face -- from soil issues, climate, irrigation, to supply chain gaps. It can help them predict weather patterns more accurately, adopt more sustainable irrigation practices, reduce wastage and, in turn, enjoy better yields and higher incomes. Farmers can now use something as simple as their smartphones to receive timely updates, relevant information and monitor their crops. More farmers are beginning to understand how leveraging solutions that use the latest technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), and Cloud offers them greater climate resilience, higher crop yield, and better price control.
Smart farming that uses modern digital technologies such as sensors, location data derived from GPS and satellites, robotics and analytics is changing the face of agriculture in India.
India’s National Strategy on AI recognises agriculture as a priority sector for implementation of AI-driven solutions. According to the Niti Aayog, AI in agriculture is expected to grow at a rate of 22.5 percent CAGR, and is likely to be valued at $2.6 billion by 2025. AI can help farmers predict weather patterns. Big Data helps improve the yield, reduces risk, and increases efficiency. With the right data, farmers will be able to take timely decisions, on what crop to sow, when to sow it, and what method to use.
In recent years, the impact of climate change on the agriculture sector has been more pronounced. The Indian government’s Economic Survey (2018) estimated that adverse effects of climate change led to an annual loss of $9-10 billion. There is no doubt that climate-resilient technologies are the need of the hour, and precision agriculture enables farmers to tackle climate change challenges with ease and efficiency. Precision agriculture uses IoT-based approaches that make farming more accurate and deliver more precise outcomes. Based on this, farmers can make informed decisions. It utilises deep data about a specific location and crops to optimise processes, making them more efficient, both in terms of resource utilisation as well as cost. It also leads to more sustainable agricultural practices.
Agriculture is now more transparent, efficient and sustainable
Today, with the help of digital agricultural solutions built using computer vision and deep-learning algorithms, farmers can monitor crop and soil health, know about the genetic engineering of seeds, learn best practices for cultivation, and engage in better livestock monitoring. They can use predictive analytics-based tools to understand environmental impacts on crop yields and plan the best course of action. We also have easy-to-use digital platforms, which help farmers adapt faster to climate-smart agricultural practices, especially in flood and drought-prone regions.
One such solution is CropIn’s digital platform which monitors and captures farm-level data and delivers real-time advisories on season-wise crop configurations, weather-based advisories, information about sowing, soil health, seed treatment, fertiliser application, treatment of crop disease and treatment of livestock.
TraceX Technologies is another startup that is helping farmers adopt sustainable agricultural practices. Its digital agriculture platform makes the agricultural supply chain more efficient, traceable and transparent. This has led to better quality, food safety, and customer commitments.
Decision intelligence platforms, like the one built by SatSure, use satellite images, machine learning, for accurate crop monitoring. In the aftermath of natural disasters, this helps decision-makers and authorities get accurate information to disburse relief to distressed farmers on time.
There are sensors and drones that are helping farmers fight pests, spray pesticides, and monitor crop health, among others.
We also have direct farmer-to-consumer platforms developed by startups like Kalgudi that directly connect farmers to end consumers to prevent exploitation by middlemen, and improve their livelihoods.
Empowering farmers with the right digital tools and knowledge on end-to-end contemporary agricultural technologies and practices including precision agriculture, sustainable agriculture, farm machinery management, marketing and consumer management, has made a significant impact on the agriculture sector.
To learn more about how technology is helping restructure India’s agricultural sector, and ushering in a new era of progress, read the eBook Serving a Digital-first India by AWS. Click here to download your copy.