The Indian Government has focussed on launching various initiatives to steer the agriculture sector towards modernisation through digital transformation methods to achieve improved productivity and making the supply chain of ‘farm-to-mandi’ efficient.  Some of these programmes are Interest Subvention Scheme, Mission for Integrated Development of Horticulture (MIDH), Neem Coated Urea, Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY), Pradhan Mantri Fasal BimaYojana (PMFBY), National Food Security Mission (NFSM), National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture (NMSA) etc.

In India, as per GoI Survey Agriculture Census, the average size of operational holdings has decreased from 2.28 hectares (1970-71) to 1.84 hectares (1980-81), to 1.41 hectares (1995-96) and to 1.08 hectares (2015-16). Climate change, soil quality, insects , weed prevalence , overpopulation, hyper-urbanisation and deteriorated environment have all been identified as global concerns and are alarming.

Modern Trends in Agriculture

The digital technologies utilised in agriculture are evolving rapidly. Drones along with farm management software tools, smart irrigation, Artificial Intelligence (AI) for predictive data analytics, integrated marketplace platforms, IoT sensors etc. in agriculture technology are playing a crucial role in building a sustainable roadmap to achieve digital farming. A relevant example here is the soil and field analysis using drones. For this, a drone with multispectral cameras payload collects data and this raw data is analyzed using techniques like image processing algorithms to bring our relevant intelligence (like the soil moisture content). Here, ‘real-time’ soil moisture profiling helps make better decisions in farming. Multiple niche technologies like remote sensing, AI , ML, and IoT play a critical role to help create computer-trained models that assist in farming applications such as crop health monitoring, weed detection, plant growth, and yield estimations.

While the digital farming concept is at a nascent stage in India, the growth of this modern tool is challenging when it comes to its implementation on the ground. The initial capital costs for digital tool implementation could be unaffordable for a farmer who in any case is already burdened by low-profit margins with a crop yield obtained from only a hectare size cultivated land.  Moreover, Digital farming is an emerging technology and a farmer may find it difficult to adapt to these new tools. There is always the human aspect in respect to the adoption of newer methods viz-a viz traditional farming techniques and sometimes can take longer to transform.

Sustainable Growth

While we mention agricultural growth, sustainability in the farming sector also plays an important role. In the farming field, sustainability can be achieved through the development of a transparent road map. This begins at the very start where quality raw material is sourced using means with low carbon footprint through a sustainable supply chain. A farmer can also consciously use various resources required for crop development in a measured manner while using the by-products in a sustainable manner. This is definitely a difficult path and can only be achieved gradually and may take some more time to find popularity in the farming sector in India. The simple mantra here could be to keep optimizing resources to achieve sustainability in the long term. With serious concerns like global warming, water and other resources for agriculture purposes need a special focus to address long-term food shortages. Innovative solutions like agritech analysis for moisture monitoring etc., it is feasible to carry out precise need based watering using automated sprinklers.

A robust and efficient supply chain is an important aspect in food lifecycle management. Here, measuring the energy consumption levels and utilization of alternative resources can help calculate the carbon footprints for food that arrives on our tables. A closed loop matrix to create a real-time performance system for achieving sustainability is the need of the hour since the scarcity of resources for agriculture purposes is already a cause of concern. With years of continuous yield extraction from the same piece of land, the soil resources require a vigorous replenishment cycle, but food demand is only rising here, leaving a very little margin of error for the farmers. A live data feed through sensor connectivity and AI can help a farmer draw out a sustainability roadmap that best suits his farm practices. Here, automatically getting full visibility and traceability into the food supply chain methods can help farmers make a better decisions.

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Indian farmlands are getting smaller with the majority of farms falling in the category of less than one hectares. A two pronged approach to achieve Digital farming techniques may  involve training of farmers to adopt the  digital transformation and provisioning of less expensive digital farming tools through Make-in-India initiatives.  Here, a combined effort by the GoI and a vibrant private sector ecosystem is the recommended way-ahead. Only an effective implementation of Digital farming schemes shall ensure India to be self-reliant in the food sector and, in near future, emerge as a world leader in the agriculture sector.

About Author

Swati Sharma, Co-Founder, AiKairos Private Limited, drives digital transformation & Industry4.0’s Upskilling program PAN India. She has 10+ years of cross-vertical experience across multiple sectors like Defence R&D, Smart Retail, and industry 4.0. She also has expertise in the development and deployment of real-time systems. She is an M tech (IT) from Banasthali Vidyapith and is well versed with software development processes and testing the life cycle of Real-Time mission-critical systems.

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