If agriculture is to continue to feed the world, it needs to become more like manufacturing- Geoffrey Carr, The Economist
The world population is projected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050. This would lead to a significant increase in food demand, even as arable land and freshwater resources are decreasing rapidly. Therefore, it becomes pertinent to upscale, upgrade, and modify the agriculture sector.
Digital technology could be the answer to this problem. With Industry 4.0, the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Nano Technology, among others, are gaining prominence. It has revolutionized the industrial process and is bringing a significant change in the farming process and value chain. Globally, the farming sector is adopting genome editing and smart breeding technologies, and integrating digital AI-based technologies with microbial soil mapping to increase the output quality, develop pest and disease resistant seeds, etc.
In India, digitization of the agriculture sector is well-accepted and recognized. The CII – Jubilant Bhartia Food and Agriculture Centre of Excellence (CII-FACE), in its white paper on ‘Advanced Technologies Reshaping Indian Agriculture,’ outlines several examples and draws parallels between the growth of nanotech solutions in India and global pioneers. The paper focuses on the usage of nanomaterials in agriculture, such as targeted delivery of nutrients or pharmaceutical capsids for the detection and treatment of diseases and delivery of bioactive compounds to targeted sites, thus boosting the growth of the crop, among other innovative applications. It also outlines strategies for deploying these international and Indian learnings on the ground for accelerating the transformation of the food and agriculture sector.
The paper aims to benefit the smallholder farmers through transformational innovation in agriculture, and the industry to develop more robust tech-enabled value chains.
The paper identifies the problem at the decision-making stage by the farmer. Farmers in India primarily rely on their traditional knowledge to select their crops. Meanwhile, the suitability of the crop is dependent on the soil type & quality, market demand, and weather pattern, among other factors. The report advises deploying AI-based technology that could factor in all these conditions and suggest the best crop to plant.
The CII paper further addresses the second most crucial aspect of farming, i.e., the cost of production. Here comes the role of digital technologies that can zero down on the type of seed, quality of soil preparation, soil health analysis, moisture percentage estimation, real-time crop analysis, and others to provide reliable information to the farmers.
The third stage of farming, i.e., the harvesting, can also be optimized with the help of IoT and analytical tools. The optimum time to harvest a crop ensures that the nutritional content of the crop is highest.
The use of digital tools is not only confined to the farming process, but also aids the farmer in the post-harvest process that includes pricing, storage, transportation, and logistics. Along with market insights, these tools help in maximizing the produce value and ensure the efficient and sustainable use of resources.
Although efforts to digitalize Indian agriculture have been initiated, the adoption of digital technology remains at a nascent stage as of now. CII identifies the prominence of segregated small-holder farms in the country, which makes data gathering a complicated activity, as the prime factor behind the slow adoption process.
Limited percolation of mechanization tools and recurring natural phenomena like floods, droughts, etc. have also worked against the deployment of digital solutions in the sector. The absence of a centralized repository of different varieties of data stacks to be used in agriculture also makes it difficult for the efficient functioning of the AI/ML tools.
CII has proposed to upscale the existing Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model in India. There exist several examples of the PPP models in India, such as MoA-IBM where the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmer’s Welfare partnered with IBM towards a pilot study for farm-level weather forecast and village-level soil moisture data. The state governments have also forged several partnerships and are moving ahead in the required direction. CII has suggested strategies to enhance digital adoption in the country:
– Digital Elevation Model (DEM)
– Digital Topography
– Land Use & Land Cover
– Soil Map
– Land Registry
– Administrative Boundaries
Different partnership models could be explored between the government and private sectors for the processing and analytics of the extensive data.
The use of technology has defined the 21st century. As the world moves toward quantum computing, AI, big data, and other new technologies, India has a tremendous opportunity to reap the advantage of being an IT giant and revolutionize the farming sector. While the green revolution led to an increase in agricultural production, the IT revolution in Indian farming must be the next big step.