The world’s population will grow to 10 billion by 2050; agricultural land has halved in the last 50 years; 20-40% of crop yield is lost to pests and disease and another 10-25% is lost post-harvest. Take into account geo-political factors like the Ukraine war in account, and food security is a big problem facing mankind. In all this, digital technologies may be the answer to ills in agriculture; vitally, they can help achieve sustainability if we overcome challenges.
Agriculture’s digital drive
- Use of modern technology: Farming is witnessing the use of modern technology for higher productivity and profitability. Today, farmers use digital tools for farm management, financial services, market services, information and much else.
- Smart agriculture use of AI and IOT:‘ Smart agriculture’ uses software for remote sensing, apart from big data, the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI). IoT in agriculture comprises sensors, drones and computer imaging integrated with analytical tools to generate actionable insights.
- Use of data and ML: Predictive analytics allows quick decision-making based on information drawn from data mining, data modelling and machine learning (ML).
- Digital adoption of Supply chain: Digital adoption can add value across the entire farm-to-fork (F2F) supply chain, covering the journey from planting to harvesting (of fruits, vegetables, grains, etc) till it arrives on one’s plate. This journey’s stakeholders include farm suppliers, farmers, food processors, traders, retailers and finally end consumers.
- Precision farming: Precision farming helps raise crop yields while minimizing the use of resources. It measures and analyses the needs of different fields and crops to aid waste management, reduce production costs, make optimal use of water and minimize environmental impacts.
- Risks concentrated on farmer: For example, all risk is concentrated on the farmer, who is encumbered by the vagaries of weather, selection of profitable products, poor access to crop insurance, etc. We need to provide more value to the farmer in compensation for that burden.
- Trust deficit in the overall functioning of the F2F model: Over time, decision-making in food production, crop marketing, transport, etc, has got heavily concentrated in the hands of large agricultural entities or producers. While production has risen, the democratization of decision-making has suffered.
- Digital inequalities: The sector’s digital transformation is characterized by digital inequalities between large and small farmers, or between high- and low-income countries.
- Challenges in the supplier ecosystem: A fertilizer or agriculture equipment manufacturer may want to help farmers but is handicapped in creating the right ecosystem to provide a holistic solution.
- Capital expenditure a major challenge: Subsistence farmers cannot afford capital expenditure, and other farmers have financial constraints too. This is a major challenge at the farm level.
- AgriStack: The Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare has planned to create ‘AgriStack’ – a collection of technology-based interventions in agriculture. It will create a unified platform for farmers to provide them end-to-end services across the agriculture food value chain.
- Digital Agriculture Mission: This has been initiated for 2021 -2025 by the government for projects based on new technologies like artificial intelligence, blockchain, remote sensing and GIS technology, use of drones and robots, etc.
- Unified Farmer Service Platform (UFSP):UFSP is a combination of Core Infrastructure, Data, Applications, and Tools that enable seamless interoperability of various public and private IT systems in the agriculture ecosystem across the country.
- National e-Governance Plan in Agriculture (NeGP-A):A Centrally Sponsored Scheme, it was initially launched in 2010-11 in 7 pilot States, which aims to achieve rapid development in India through the use of ICT for timely access to agriculture-related information to the farmers.