Farmers are significantly facing pressures to feed an ever-growing population and their challenges are far more complex due to the complicated agricultural value chain. Apart from an apt foresight and good judgment, there is an acute need to adopt modern, sustainable farming practices backed by technology in order to ensure a steady flow of income for farmers looking at the current challenging economy.
Across the world, advanced technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), blockchain, remote sensing, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), multispectral images, cloud computing systems, etc. have played a significant role in increasing the yield by deploying fewer resources. All these tools have equipped the farming community in planning and predicting the production cycle with greater accuracy.
Speaking in the Indian context, the Covid-19 pandemic has in a way created an urgency to amplify the digital agriculture growth in India. And this is possible when we create robust rural connectivity since most farmers and land holdings are based out of villages. In fact, tech giant Google has pledged to invest $10 billion over a span of five to seven years to accelerate India’s digital economy, which is the need of the hour. This will directly benefit and pump up the agriculture sector that currently contributes 18% to India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
One of the key aspects for farmers to go digital is by upgrading themselves with low-cost smartphones and tablets equipped with GPS, which crucially supports the flow of information.
Here, technology plays a key role in increasing productivity as it will deliver customised solutions to farmers based on crop’s sowing date, variety sown, harvest date, soil health, disease outbreaks, pest control measures, water availability, projected weather conditions as well as market prices. These recommendations will be based on the vast network of data ecosystems supported by Information & Communication Technology (ICT) and Internet of Things (IoT) that are capable of delivering real-time, targeted information which in return will maximise profits and minimise losses.
This is especially fruitful for small and marginal Indian farmers who often lack necessary information that leads to major crop loss. Through implementation of intelligent software and hardware, farmers will be in a position to make quick, timely and informed decisions regarding quality crop production. In short, pre-harvest and post-harvest management systems will provide relevant insights to optimise productivity and mitigate the impact of unpredictable variables for farmers.
Digital agriculture will also help break the monopoly and decentralise the pricing mechanism and reduce transaction costs thus ensuring higher returns to farmers for their produce. Since agriculture is a dynamic data-driven sector, digital tools can dramatically improve the livelihood of farmers by protecting them against price volatility.
Mobile phones also enable farmers to integrate and operate in structured markets and no longer become victims of distress sale by selling in saturated markets that are not based on standards. Also, they can easily avail settlements through digital money, thanks to the Direct Benefit Transfer system.
Another digital avenue created for farmers is in the proliferation of online marketing platforms that provide farmers with unrestricted market access, collaborative profits and help eliminate intermediaries. Farmers can easily access these portals via their mobile phones. With the help of the internet, they can even browse for specific information pertaining to current market prices, weather conditions or any crop-related facts. With the aid of these forecasts, farmers can more than double the yield and cut down on crop/food wastage too.
A digitised farmer will naturally adopt ‘precision farming’ which will be sustainable in the long run with the help of technology. The quality crops produced can be distributed effectively through the supply chain using the best preservation and storage methods. To top it, having food safety systems and facilities in place to track supply chains will also boost the overall value of the agriculture sector.
On a concluding note, I feel ‘digitised farmers’ will significantly contribute in realising the dream of an ‘atmanirbhar bharat’ or self-reliant India in the coming years. Technology is evolving at a breakneck speed and the Indian government along with agtech companies can create successful smart agri value chains by digitally empowering the famers and providing them with wealth creation prospects as we progress as a nation.
(The writer is CEO of Agri10x, a Pune-based agtech company focused on tech enablement in the agricultural sector)
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