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  • Team ThinkAg

Indian Agriculture at the cusp of ‘tech-celeration’

Updated: Mar 2

India’s agriculture land is the world’s second largest and provides a source of livelihood to about 58% of country’s population. At 60%, our country’s area under cultivation exceeds that of China (viz. at 56%). Yet, China’s production was valued at $1,367 billion – more than three times that of ours $407 billion.

There are several reasons behind the relatively paltry yield of our farm lands. While fertiliser consumption (383.3 kg/ha in China vis-à-vis 209 kg/ha in India) does have a bearing on the yield, lack of investment in Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation Systems (AKIS) is the major reason for the same. India’s farmers have traditionally tended to favour age-old, labour- intensive and resource-intensive farming practices. However, today’s emerging threats - climate change, unpredictable weather, resource depletion and accelerating food demand - have made India recognise the need to turn to technology to keep its farm lands fertile and its population well-fed.

Smart initiatives for smart agriculture

The use of robots, Artificial Intelligence (AI), sensors (for temperature and moisture measurement), satellite imaging, drones, GPS and precision farming is finding greater acceptance among the country’s farmers. Such technological intervention may still be in its infancy, but it is set to accelerate exponentially. For instance, the potential value of AI applications in agriculture alone is expected to grow by nearly a quarter every year to $2.6 billion by 2025, according to a NITI Aayog report.

An enabling policy framework and support from the private sector are the key drivers expected to spur the adoption of smart agri-tech. The Government is already executing its Digital Agriculture Mission, launched in September 2021. The announcements in the 2023-24 Union Budget further bolster the aims of this mission. Digital open infrastructure will play a critical role in improving access to farm inputs as well as intelligence. Additionally, the establishment of AI centres of excellence coupled with an Agriculture Aggregator Fund will spur the proliferation of agri start-ups founded by young rural entrepreneurs. At the same time, the private sector is playing its part to drive digitisation in agriculture. Companies, for instance, are driving advancements in remote sensing and GIS, a key tool that uses geo-information to aid decision making among farmers.

Sustainable operations for smart agriculture

Change is already evident. For instance, the switch to using a drilling machine instead of manual labour allowed rice farmers in Punjab to grow a lot more rice per sq. m., a lot more efficiently, a lot more cost-effectively and in a far more resource-conscious manner, a Reuters case study showed. This generated higher yields at reduced costs while also avoiding wastage of precious resources.

Hence, as the industry is already focusing on enhancing farmers’ yields and earnings, the attention needs to turn to sustainable adoption of technology. This is all the more crucial in the context of climate change and growing global food demand. India’s farm lands are being called upon to produce more food than ever before and, given our growing population, this demand is set to increase even more. Rising yields will boost the prosperity of our farmers but yields need to be driven higher in a responsible manner. Over-stressing our farm lands will ruin soil quality, eventually rendering them fallow and useless. Sensors and automated irrigation practices can help monitor agricultural land, temperature, soil moisture, etc. allowing farmers to monitor crops from anywhere. Crop-rotation and inter-cropping are other techniques that can further preserve soil health.

Smart technology for local market

Technology also needs to be localised. India is a unique country with its own unique context and needs. Global solutions cannot be copy-pasted to Indian agriculture. To raise awareness about technology adoption among farmers who live in distinct parts of the country, in different milieus and speak different languages, a localised approach is required. Hence, as we witness new-age companies offering full-stack technology solutions for farmers, it is imperative that they drive solutions while being cognizant of local conditions. For example, they will be more effective if they focus on developing localised awareness campaigns and troubleshooting services (e.g. chatbots in local languages)

The endgame of digitisation in agriculture is to ensure that India is food-secure and that our farmers are prosperous. Only by making technology accessible and fostering collaboration within industry, can India reap digitisation’s game-changing benefits.

Smart collaboration for smart farming

A collaborative approach between the government, the private sector and the technology providers can uplift India’s agriculture sector. Our country’s new-age companies are playing a critical role in building innovative and affordable solutions for farmers. Thus, enhancing their collaboration with legacy companies having existing farmer relations will go a long way in enhancing farmers‘ productivity and profitability. Parallelly, the increasing trend of children of Indian farmers being less likely to take up farming means that there is a need for industry to further collaborate with government at the grass-roots level. For instance, a programme like FALI – wherein students from class 8 and 9 receive specialised training on different elements of agriculture – is showing green shoots as we are seeing more children of farmers opting to pursue farming as a career.

Our country is at the cusp of an agriculture “tech-celeration”. As technology will eventually pervade agriculture and leave a transformational impact on the sector, just as it has on every other aspect of our lives, it is more crucial than ever for farmers to be educated in agricultural technology. Enabling their access to the right knowledge and skills will only maximise agriculture’s potential thereby allowing India’s farm lands to feed the world and boost our farmers’ prosperity.

– Burjis Godrej, Executive Director & Head of Special Projects, Godrej Agrovet Ltd.

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