How Precision Farming And AI Can Fuel Second Green Revolution In India

Just recently, Satya Nadella visited Microsoft’s Hyderabad campus, which is one of the largest R&D centers being run by the company outside its Redmond headquarters. While his visit didn’t attract much attention, he did interact with employees. He also said that if developing countries like India can increase the agricultural yield with the help of AI, it’ll have a vast impact on the economy.

Currently, ICRISAT (International Crop Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics) is working with Microsoft to develop an AI Sowing App to send sowing advisories to farmers for telling the optimal date to sow. Without a doubt, the sowing date is very critical when it comes to ensure the best yield and this app aims to eradicate the guesswork from the process.

Initiatives like these aren’t uncommon in India. In many villages in Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra, farmers are getting automated voice calls that alert them regarding future pest attacks on their crops. In Karnataka, the state government is able to get forecasts before three months for planning their Minimum Support Price. In Haryana, with the implementation of the “Climate Resilient Agricultural Practices — Climate Smart Villages” Project, 250 villages with large wheat and paddy output are being adapted to climate change and variability.

Is it like the dawn of a new agricultural age in India where farmers can use technologies like artificial intelligence, internet of things, data analytics, and cloud computing to get a better control over their crops? According to the World Economic Forum, farming is the direct source of livelihood for more than 55% percent population in India. This number is far less more than USA’s 5% agriculture-dependent population. Also, agriculture contributes to just 13% percent to India’s $2 trillion economy. If the other sectors are reaping benefits of the newest technological innovations and research, there’s absolutely no reason why agricultural sector should be left behind.

Talking about the whole world, as per Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), by 2050, the world’s population will reach 9.1 billion, which is 1.5 billion more than today’s number. This also means that in order to feed this larger and more urban population, the food production will need to increase by more than 50%. This is another reason why we must change our priorities and approaches.

Why should Indian farmers adopt precision farming techniques?

It’s not hidden that without any kind of mechanization and usage of technology, agriculture is a hardcore physical work. This has also prompted migration, change in job pattern, selling of land, etc. This has put great pressure on Indian farmers and their land to feed the 1.2 billion population of their country. The sustainability of current agricultural production system is also under threat due to the overexploitation of natural resources. This is where the importance of precision agriculture, driven by data and analytics, comes into play.

With the help of precision farming, the production becomes more predictive as the chances of misapplication of products and resources are removed. By further dividing large areas of land into smaller pieces and taking ensuring that crops receive what they need for maximum output and best health. In precision farming, there is the usage of specialized equipment, IT services, and software. By obtaining real-time data about the crop, soil, and weather condition with the help of technologies like GPS, GNSS, drones, satellite imagery, etc., a farmer is able to optimally distribute resources and make economic decisions.

It’s not that Indian agritech industry doesn’t have the right technology to develop solutions. A big challenge lies in the fragmented nature of Indian farming arena where the operational holding of land average per farmer is very low. As per Agriculture Census of 2010–11, in the past 40 years, the farming land is shrunk and the number of farmers had doubled. The average size of a single holding has been estimated as 1.15 hectare.

In European and US countries, where farms are generally over 100 hectares, there’s is an extensive application of technologies like GPS for precise mapping and sensors for sharing the inputs like water, pesticide, and fertilizer requirement with the farmer at right time. The heavy machinery for sowing, harvesting, etc., is an indispensable part of the precision agriculture at these farms.

Along the similar lines, it’s also worth pointing out that, in India, farmers with large operational holdings, i.e., 10 hectares, is just 0.70%. In the past, several attempts have been made to aggregate the produce and help the farmers. This also calls for customized solutions from the agritech industry for small and medium farmers who can apply modern equipment and use precision farming and compete with the top-tier producers.

Harvesting technologies appropriate for different operational scales

Another aim of the industry should be to lower down the high costs, which is the biggest criticism of mechanized techniques. This can be solved by leasing of machinery and subscription-based services. While such a thing is already prevalent in some part of the country for wheat, more innovation is needed. For small farms, new kinds of machinery and irrigation techniques need to be developed with the help of intensive R&D.

Not limited to precision agriculture

As pointed out by Nadella, AI has the potential to change our lives in numerous ways and agriculture isn’t untouched by the same. The growers have the challenge to feed our growing population without irreparably straining the planet’s resources.

With the application of AI, precision agriculture has become richer in the western countries. The fundamental data like “as planted” information and yield are becoming more accurate, which is helping the farmers acquire suitable means during the harvest season. With the help of AI-powered software tools and unmanned aerial vehicles, farmers are also able to assess the crop health at the earliest and ensure pest control without any hassle. In future, AI may also see its application in other areas of farming like the development of new seeds and fertilizers, R&D efforts, crop protection, etc.

Efforts from startups and companies like AgVoice, Resson, Abundant Robotics, Tellus Labs, Slantrange, etc., are using different AI-based techniques to change the way agriculture is done. Such efforts are also needed in the Indian agritech sector on a bigger scale. Along the similar lines, with its smart farming solution Fasal, Wolkus is working to bring smart agriculture to Indian farmers.

It’s expected that the leasing and subscription-based agritech could become one of the biggest players in the Indian agriculture in the upcoming decade. With the help of timed-analysis and prediction, they’ll be the ones to shape India’s future and ensure better remuneration for farmers. As a result of these changes, we can expect agriculture to become glamorous and attract young talent. Can India’s young population will drive its next green revolution? The answer to this question will become obvious in the next 5–10 years.

In the times of open trade, where the governments have the choice to reduce import duties on agricultural products to meet the demands, which hurts the local products, turning to newer technologies and methods to increase production and quality is one of the few effective measures Indian farmers can take.

About Fasal: It is an AI powered IoT platform for Agriculture ecosystem that records a variety of growing conditions on the farm. It then uses artificial intelligence and data science to make on-farm predictions, before delivering the insights that matter into your hand. With its subscription-based model, Fasal aims to cut down the costs for farmers and provide them real-time alerts about crop’s conditions. Moreover, predictive models and optimization of daily tasks, it gives the farmers a complete control over their future harvest.

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