- According to the estimates of the FAO, about 60 per cent of the global population is still dependent, directly or indirectly, on agriculture. Yet, its contribution to the world GDP is just about 4 per cent — a dismal figure in comparison to the combined contribution of 90 per cent of the secondary and tertiary sectors of the economy.
- The Indian scenario isn’t much different, except that the GDP contribution of this sector (12-15 per cent) to the economy is somewhat higher than the world average. This is a case of sectoral income inequalities.
The need for imbibing technology into agriculture
- An Ernst & Young 2020 study pitches India’s agritech market at USD 24 billion by 2025 with the potential for supply chain technology and output markets at the highest. But this ecosystem can sustain at the last mile only when technology interventions are popular and adopted by small and marginal farmers.
- The ‘Digital India Initiative’ aims at widespread adoption of technology through digital platforms, analytics, artificial intelligence, blockchain, machine learning, Software as a Service (SaaS) and Internet of Things (IoT) in agriculture.
- Experts have opined that the onset of Covid-19 pandemic has led to aggressive adoption of automation, machines and technology.
How can technology improve Indian Agriculture scenario?
- The areas of ‘idea’ incubation are as diverse as farm inputs, precision agriculture, farm management, quality as well as traceability parameters, supply chain/output market linkages and access to financial services etc.
- Advancements in agriculture technology (agri-tech) offer precise solutions for sustainable farming that includes indoor vertical farming, hydroponic farming, and modern greenhouse practices. These practices are set to redesign the farming experience with myriad benefits.
- They produce healthier, fresh, and more nutritious food that has a longer shelf life. These practices also help in saving valuable water, land, and labour resources. Additionally, the controlled growing system enables farmers to produce food free from harmful chemicals and residue.
- These measures will accelerate production, ensure efficient input use, reduce post-harvest losses, intensify value addition, introduce risk mitigation and optimise ancillary activities.
- Making farm mechanisation equipment available to farmers through aggregated custom hiring, high-tech centers and machinery banks.
- Initiating the electronic National Agriculture Market (e-NAM) in 1,000 regulated wholesale spot markets for real time price discovery with quality assaying.
- Launching the scheme for creation of 10,000 Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) to bring economies of scale through aggregation, and allowing existing FPOs to trade online.
- Initiation of the creation of a federated national database for farm services.
- Launch of standard operating procedures for drone technologies, including financial assistance to farmer collectives for their use.
- The creation of 1-lakh crore Agri Infrastructure Fund (AIF). It provides access to credit, with interest subvention, for agri-entrepreneurs, FPOs and governments to invest in rural community assets and post-harvest infrastructure.
- NITI Aayog’s Atal Innovation Mission (AIM) is also a plug-in to aggressively push technological innovation with its over 1,000 Atal Tinkering Labs (ATLs) that have been set up across districts.
- Rastriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) has now been innovatively designed to promote agritech.
- Agri-preneurship and startups
- International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and National Academy of Agricultural Management (NAARM).
Examples of Indian startups using technology
- Fasal’s AI and IoT platform delivers farm-specific, crop-specific and crop-stage specific actionable advisory for reducing the cost of operation and increasing quality and yield. The startup’s artificial intelligence-driven platform regularly relays information to smartphone on the quantum of irrigation needs, risk of pest attack and use of pesticides. Data collected through readings is converted through ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) into precise actionable intelligence. Its operations on 20,000 acres of land across states have led to the saving of up to 3 billion litres of water from irrigation, reduced pesticide costs by 60% and increased yield by up to 40%.
- Tartan Sense, operating on the theme of “small robot for small farms” utilises semi-autonomous rovers named ‘BrijBot’ to capture farm images. These are analysed with the help of AI algorithms to identify weeds, following which an on-board computer sprays chemical only on the detected weeds. Weeding costs on cotton fields have reduced by 70% due to these rovers.
- Wingreens Farms has shifted the processing stage to the farms itself. They have developed packages for over 100 crops while simultaneously educating farmers on moving away from water-hungry crops to lucrative and water-efficient crops. Their practices have led to savings of 2.5 lakh litres of water per acre per annum and increased some farmer’s income by around 1000%.
- MyCrop has developed an ‘agriculture platform as a service’ approach which provisions for the utilisation of algorithms and big data to facilitate informed access to markets for farmers. A ‘farmer mitra’ delivers analytical insights and expertise to farmers for increasing profitability by reducing the cost of cultivation, increasing yield and finding suitable marketplaces.
- Aibono brings forth an AI-powered aggregator of fresh produce. Its ‘seed to plate platform’ connects stakeholders from the growing stage to consumption. It provides insights derived from AI on what and how to produce while enabling retailers and consumers to source farm produce from a traceable aggregated source.
- Agricx has developed an AI-enabled software-as-a-service stack for entities across producing, trading, storing, transporting, processing or financing of agricultural commodities. Their services provide an opportunity to digitise the entire procurement process. Further, the portable spectrometer and hyperspectral device ensures lab equivalent results in a matter of seconds making destructive testing redundant.
- There are firms which are also offering end to end services across the agriculture value chain. For instance, WayCool takes a ‘tech-enabled end-to-end supply chain approach’ utilising robotic process automation, AI and ML. Their operation has spread across product sourcing, food processing, branding and marketing, last-mile distribution, and farm inputs. Sourcing fruits and vegetables from small and medium farmers, they facilitate access to buyer clientele such as Taj Group of Hotels, Elior, and Sodexo for maximum revenue realisation.
- Cropin services are being utilised by 1.6 million farmers for risk mitigation via live tracking of farms and interpretation of market trends for sale revenue maximisation. It utilises satellite imagery to create ‘crop-signatures’ to assess crop damage, productivity and farmers’ credit-worthiness. Furthermore, its smart farm platform supports farmers in terms of loans, insurance, crop and seeds. They are digitising farms while data-managing the entire ecosystem.
- AgNext has been using AI, data analytics, internet-of-things and spectral analytics for analysing food quality to ensure effective trade, standarsidation, production, warehousing and consumption. AgNext also uses computer-based vision for effective post-harvest quality inspection of crops to substitute visual inspection.
- Startups such as Ninjacart, Crofarm and KrishiHub are procuring fruits/vegetables directly from farmers and selling those to retailers. They use myriad technologies to keep their target farmers abreast of quantum of demand and current prices, coupled with optimised logistics and online payments.
- Milk Mantra is working on innovative packaging formats and dairy products. They have introduced a network of Bulk Milk Coolers in villages of Odisha with more than 35,000 dairy farmers benefiting from their services.
- Small farm size, coupled with low digital adoption by small and marginal farmers.
- But technological innovations are also being triggered by critical factors such as climate change, reduction in water availability, tolerance of pests, decrease in quality of soils and labour shortages.
- Lack of funding
How to overcome these challenges?
- A hub and spoke model- More than 700 Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs) or entities such as ITC’s e-Choupal 4.0 can be hubs in agro-climatic regions to impart digital literacy as well as to share best practices with aggregated farmers in farms around these hubs.
- One way to achieve scaling is by strengthening their partnership with FPOs and, more importantly, food-processing companies. This could be further coupled with extensive cross-country collaborations to support incubators, accelerators and investors supporting agritech.
- Funding,, specifically for on-farm management and precision agriculture, they suggest, has to be increased.
- “First Trade Minimum Price” (FTMP)- Fixation of prices of all the agricultural primary goods on a day-to-day basis or periodically by the local farming community. Once such prices are discovered and fixed, the first trader will have to procure that commodity at a price not below the price so fixed. The subsequent sales or trades can happen depending on the market forces.