Digital technology holds tremendous potential to transform the Indian agricultural economy and impact the lives of Indian farmers. Major challenges confronting Indian agriculture include declining farm productivity, unsustainable usage of resources, diminishing and degrading natural resources, a rapidly growing demand for high-quality and safe food, stagnating farm incomes and fragmented land holdings, can be overcome through sustainable & scalable deployment of digital technologies & infrastructure. A case in point is the e-commerce wave in the past few years that has been fast catching up in the food supply chain aggregation space, both at the farm-end as well as the consumer-end, which has greatly benefitted farmers and consumers alike.
Numerous farm-level applications of digital technology, including remote sensing, GIS, crop and soil-health monitoring, and livestock and farm management, have been making their mark. At the pre-harvest stage, digital technology can recommend crop and input selection and assist in obtaining credit and insurance. Weather advisories, disease and pest-related assistance through data generation as well as the advanced analytics allow farmers to make smart decisions about farming and benefit from an economical use of inputs and labour.
The Indian agribusiness sector stands to greatly benefit from the numerous innovative digital technologies across farm, post farm, processing, market and logistics that have emerged in the recent past. Here, I would like to highlight some key digital technologies that can truly transform India’s agribusiness sector:
Dairy farm optimisation and monitoring services by leveraging IoT, big data, cloud and mobility are increasingly being used to improve milk production, milk procurement, storage & supply chain.
A range of service providers on the Farming-as-a-service (FaaS) model are leveraging digital technology to provide innovative farm-to-fork solutions to farmers and agri businesses.
Drones and other such monitoring technologies are being developed with the objective of creating an integrated hyperlocal farm data collection and crop analytics platform to increased pre-harvest efficacy.
Monitoring and predicting weather, thus providing agri-risk solutions with a high level of accuracy in the short, medium, and long term too is an important innovation.
Numerous innovators with solar-powered phase change enabled materials are offering products for irrigation and cold storage, with the aim of catering to smallholder farms and regions with limited or no electricity.
Eco-friendly crop protection methods are also coming up, that have the potential to minimise a significant proportion of the damage caused by pests and diseases without overdosing crops and plants with chemicals, thus preventing soil and water contamination.
Hi-tech farming by a number of entrepreneurs is being enabled through digital applications of sensor and communication technology.
Access to markets
I firmly believe that the revolutionary electronic National Agricultural Market (e-NAM), a technology-driven unified market platform, coupled with associated ecosystem development including robust electronic warehouse receipts and insurance & cash flows based financing for farmers, has the potential to radically transform the price discovery & transaction efficiency of farm markets in India. Complementary to this is the digital payments space which is fast evolving the way food processing companies engage with farmers for offering a transparent and robust payment mechanism. Many dairy companies have already started making same day payments instead of the traditional 10-day cycle.
The common barriers to commercialisation and scaling up of technology are access to finance, cash flow management, gaps in technology infrastructure, limited access to institutionalised farmer networks, amongst others. For innovation and entrepreneurship to be effective in transforming agriculture in India, it will be important to address these issues and create an enabling environment in which they can grow and flourish.
Uptake of technologies at market prices in a sector that has traditionally been heavily subsidised remains challenging, but farmers are prompt to identify what works in their interest and are ready to pay for it. Digital technologies offer the potential to achieve the necessary conditions for scale, with distributed low cost and customised delivery, thus attracting private investment in agri-innovation. The challenge before India lies in balancing high growth with inclusive growth in agriculture, which can be achieved by an effective policy framework, enabling technology ecosystem and innovative financing, which can empower Indian farmers and make agriculture sustainable.