Governments and policymakers across the world are hurriedly seeking new and sustainable approaches and methods to alleviate food insecurity.
This is becoming a major concern, given that the global population as of November is a whopping 7.99 billion. It is also exigent to manage the limited resources, the imbalance in distribution and accessibility, and significantly increase agricultural output.
India’s Agritech Scenario The global Agritech sector is poised to grow at 12.1% CAGR between 2020 to 2027, with startups in this realm raising funds to the tune of US$26.1, which amounts to a growth of 35.4% from the year 2019.
In the face of the impending crisis and given that India continues to be quintessentially an agrarian country, there is significant attention to agriculture technology or agritech. The country continues to compete with the US and China in this sector. The agricultural sector in India is a source of livelihood for more than 40% of our population and makes up about 9.9% of the country’s GDP.
However, this sector continues to be hampered by stunted productivity and growth, with the income for farmers taking a serious ‘beating’. It has become exigent, therefore, to speedily introduce sustainable reforms and modernize Indian agriculture with technology or agritech.
What is Agritech and Why is it Important?
Agritech is simply the application of technology to farming, intending to enhance efficiency and profitability. Technology enables the enhancement of agriculture through monitoring, analysing, and pre-emptive action for weather conditions, pest control, and soil, air, and temperature management. It is also used to manage irrigation, heating, and the distribution of aerosols for controlling insects.
A peek into the start-up ecosystem shows that India is home to more than 1300 start-ups in the agritech space. These new businesses use artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), the internet of things (IoT), automation, and other technologies, all geared towards pushing efficiency and productivity in this realm.
While some realms within the agricultural sector have begun to understand and use technology and modernized equipment, a large part of the farmer population continues to rely on traditional methods.
Emerging Technologies & Agriculture
There is no doubt that the agritech ecosystem is booming, with advancements leading to newer technologies consistently, which, in turn, are providing real-time farm data to the country’s farmers. The agritech start-ups are supporting farmers by providing guidelines on accentuating the quantity and quality of their products while keeping the cost of production low.
These are some of the ways in which emerging technologies are essaying tremendous change:
Internet of Things (IoT)
This technology helps to reduce dependence on the physical monitoring of crop fields. IoT devices assimilate and deliver exact real-time information through mobile apps or other means. IoT also assists with tasks such as soil fertility, temperature and humidity detection, tracking plants and livestock, and much more.
Manual labour-dependent tasks such as fruit picking, harvesting, planting, transplanting, spraying, seeding, and weeding, are slowly being managed with the help of robots. This is agritech’s answer to the severe labour shortage on farms. Farmers now can manage onerous tasks by automating them through GPS-enabled self-directed or semi-autonomous tractors. Additionally, automated livestock management is being managed by robots.
Historically, farmers lose precious crops due to a lack of information and resources. AI helps with predictive insights on the subjects of crop output, weather conditions, price predictions, and more – supporting farmers to make informed and speedy decisions. This real-time information supports proactivity and prevents losses. Chatbots deliver tips and information to farmers.
AI and Machine learning help livestock farmers to detect diseases and anomalies in cattle and plants, enabling swift corrective action. ML algorithms help make suggestions on gene selection too.
Big Data and Analytics
This technology enables the easy examination of farm data, which can then help to convert it into information that can be used to advantage. The data on crop production, area, projections, irrigation, land usage, agriculture prices, weather predictions, crop disease information, and more help lay the foundation for the next season.
Drones with cameras are super-effective in cutting costs for farmers through the images they can capture in a short time, even for very large farm expanses. They can also assist with geofencing to prevent the loss of livestock, help with monitoring grazing and wandering cattle activities, and a lot more – all through GPS-enabled technology. The ability of drones to hover allows them to collect real-time and comprehensive data and images with regard to crop and soil conditions.
The core attribute of blockchain is the ability to store records while keeping them tamper-free. This is very useful to address issues in the current food system – food fraud, proper supply chain, food traceability, and inefficiencies. Blockchain is decentralized – this strength ensures the proper validation of processes and products, leading to greater transparency in the market.
Blockchain technology enabled by sensors supports the safe and guaranteed tracing of animal products ‘farm to table’. This activity is critical in monitoring disease outbreaks, thereby preventing pandemics and aligned economic losses. Sensors help to monitor milk quality, pregnancy hormones, and the overall health of the cattle.
Additionally, sensors allow cattle to roam freely, without the boundaries of fences – sensors act as virtual fences. In addition to this technology, robotics has also found favour, since it helps to address the critical labour shortage issue on livestock farms. Currently, about 12% of all dairy farms have ‘employed’ robots, and this usage is expected to reach about 20% in five years hence.
As India continues to grow, with internet penetration even in rural areas, given that they are the engine of growth, adapting to changes seems doable.
India is poised and well-positioned to manage evolutionary agricultural techniques, enabling farmers to move towards innovation and better business models, all supported by Agritech.
If the country is lacking anywhere, it’s in the quality and quantity of top-notch talent in the form of expert engineering and IT professionals who can lead the revolution that is underway.
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