Making crops flourish…digitally

By: | Published: March 21, 2016 12:10 AM

India could unleash the green revolution in 1960s and deliver better quality seeds, water and fertilisers to the farmers leading to better yields.

India could unleash the green revolution in 1960s and deliver better quality seeds, water and fertilisers to the farmers leading to better yields. However in the past decades, the impetus for the agriculture sector that could catapult its growth and crop yield has not been substantial. Order of magnitude productivity enhancing investments have been limited in the Indian agriculture sector. Can digital transformation be that stimulant that has the
potential to rejuvenate the sector and create opportunities for growth and creation of value added jobs?

As one of the most populous nations in the world, India has the least land to expand and hence productivity and yield are the key concerns for the agriculture sector. With the second largest cultivable land in the world and 70% of the population still dependent on agriculture, the possibilities of gains from the introduction of digital technologies in agriculture could be immense.

In the western world where there has been a significant automation in the agriculture field, apart from high-end research using the extensive data available for enhancing all round productivity with the help of IT solutions over the years, the impact of digital transformation has been tremendous as can be seen from the examples of IoT to manage farms, cattle and farm vehicles. In the Indian context, where the landholdings are much smaller and automation leading to higher levels of productivity being very low with the limited use of farm machinery, the opportunities for digital impact are very different as compared to the western world.

In India, crop yield rate is 2.4 tonnes per hectare, compared to China which has nearly double the yield at 4.7 tonnes per hectare. Most Indian farmers still depend upon the natural factors for crop yield, crop failure resulting from drought conditions and huge loans taken by farmers have driven more than 3 lakh farmers to commit suicide in the last two decades. Despite the country being blessed with adequate water sources they are not tapped effectively leading to 380 million people still being malnourished and starved. These are some of the critical areas where digital solutions could make the maximum impact.

Standalone technology and productivity initiatives will provide limited results for the investments made. It is the approach of connected agriculture supported by technology that has the power of making transformational impact. Enablers such as research organisations, financial service providers, farm related productivity enhancing systems and market access for both buying and selling of goods and services have to be brought together on the same platform to derive maximum advantage for the farmers and all other stakeholders. If farmers connected to the entire agriculture supply chain are provided with end to end technology implementation support with expert advice on tap, low cost pay per use services could be developed.

The need of the hour is to ‘push’ information to the farmers instead of expecting them to ‘pull’ information as most farmers are not aware or oriented yet on the availability of and relevance of the information that could be of help to them. Reliable power supply, internet bandwidth, win-win partnerships between government and private sector and low cost technology implementation would be the prerequisites for the success of connected agriculture.

The areas of opportunities for maximum impact through digital technologies include pest control, soil testing, unsustainable water management, water conservation and crop yield. Digital technologies could help in field preparation and planting and could help farmers by tracking weather reports and advising them the ideal fertilisers and the timing to use them and provide them with the historical patterns of the crop yields based on weather, soil conditions and fertilisers used. This enables farmers take real time decisions that would minimise the risks of cultivation during the season. Drones are being deployed for precision agriculture by monitoring weather conditions, allocating water and monitor plant health. With the costs of deploying drones coming down, this is an interesting instance of IoT in agriculture that is worth watching. Crop-in is one of the Indian companies that is demonstrating how small and large farm land owners could be helped through collection of data with the help of an app and how their cloud-based platform could improve the crop yield manifold by timely guidance to the farmers.

The skills available in rural India is another area of concern. With increasing migration of rural citizens to the cities in search of jobs, the agricultural labour in the rural areas is dwindling. Further the new skills required to work with new technologies, hi-tech machines and complex production techniques are not easily available with the ageing population. Hence there is an urgent need to address the skill requirements along with the infusion of technologies in the agriculture sector. India already has a strong well dispersed network of research extension system which would continue to act as the primary feeder of inputs to the farming sector. Connected learning with the view to providing state of the art competencies to enhance agricultural productivity supported by intelligent knowledge management systems and extension services aimed at informed decision making would be essential ingredients of the digital transformation framework.

Digital India and Skill India Missions and the thrust on financial inclusion are appropriate initiatives that have to be implemented in perfect coordination with one another in order to help this sector with its transformation agenda and thus make it possible to emulate the magic of the green revolution once again.

The writer is CEO, Global Talent Track, a corporate training solutions company

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