India: Precision Promises to De-Stress the Distressed Agricultural Landscape
With India’s population increasing leaps and bounds every year, the day is not too far when it will surpass China to become the most populated country in the world. This population explosion in the country has put tremendous pressure on the existing lands and agriculture, which was already over-burdened, supporting the existing population of 1.4 billion.
With the number predicted to cross 1.7 billion by 2050, how will India feed them all? The history of the Indian civilization is the history of the Monsoon. The sub-continent gets 75% of its annual rainfall, in that just four months. Drought before Indian independence was synonymous with famines. India’s first national priority after independence was food security. Only after the green revolution of the 1960s was India able to feed herself.
Come 2019, India’s population has quadrupled. And the Monsoon, a climatically stable natural phenomena, has become increasing unstable due to climate change. The frequency of drought and low rainfall has increased. At the same time, per capita ownership of land has reduced to less than an acre.
Water scarcity in the nation is further aggravating the problem and posing numerous challenges for farmers to carry on agricultural practices smoothly. At this time, when the country is already struggling to provide clean drinking water to its people, how will it arrange water for agriculture to produce food for the growing population? The need of the hour is technology-driven agricultural solutions that can ‘produce more with less.’
In order to fulfill the burgeoning demands of food and water by the existing population, and to deploy resources for upcoming generations, many technological advancements are taking place in the agricultural sector. These advancements have been able to release stress from our existing lands, as well as the farmers.
The use of technology in agriculture is not very new. Farming is a highly labor-intensive job, and in order to increase farm efficiency, manage costs, and increase the production of crops, farmers are encouraged to learn the use of technology and adopt it in daily agricultural practices. Some examples include: Sustainable agricultural practices using high-performance tools and equipment; vertical farming; use of AI (Artificial Intelligence); blockchain technology; use of drones; and more.
One such technological advancement that is doing wonders in the field of agriculture is precision agriculture. Also known as satellite farming, or site-specific crop management (SSCM), precision agriculture is growing in India, driven by the country’s worst water crisis and the need to substantially increase food production.
Precision agriculture is a new way of managing farms, which encompasses observing, measuring and responding to field variability in crops. It is a decision support system (DSS) for managing a farm with the intent of optimizing returns on inputs, and at the same time preserving resources. In simple words, precision agriculture is a farming technique that makes the growing of crops and raising livestock, more accurate and controlled.
This modern-day agricultural practice makes use of information technology and a wide array of equipment such as GPS guidance, sensors, drones, bees, control systems, robotics, autonomous vehicles and hardware, variable rate technology, GPS-based soil sampling, telematics, and software.
While precision agriculture was started with the aim to increase crop efficiency and ensure profitability, it is also taking sustainability into account by protecting the environment. This has been achieved through big data gathered by technology, which is guiding the present and empowering the future decisions related to farming. It gives precise information on when to grow a crop, the best time to sow seeds, the best time to apply fertilizers or chemicals etc. The core principles of precision agriculture have been around for more than 25 years, but it’s only over the past decade that they have become so popular, thanks to technology!
Furthermore, the adoption of mobile devices, increase in IoT, falling prices of sensors, drones and computer chips, access to high-speed internet, low cost and reliable satellites used for positioning and imagery, and inter-connected farm equipment are some of the key technologies, contributing to the increasing trend of precision agriculture. It has also been suggested by some experts that more than 50% of farmers today are using at least one precision farming practice.
In India, the advent of a near-ubiquitous smart phones bundled with inexpensive data plans – coupled with the revolution in high resolution satellite images – have spawned numerous start-ups that are attacking various inefficiencies in Indian value chain: Tartan Sense, an agriculture robotics company; Fasal, a farm data gathering company; Ervvaka, an aquaculture data gathering company. Even established agri-companies like Mahindra are integrating precision agriculture technology.
With the government’s support and policymakers understanding the importance of innovation in the agriculture ecosystem, the adoption of precision agriculture in India has grown. The participation of players throughout the food-production supply-chain, digital agriculture has the potential to be a global solution and has the potential to encourage farmers to shift from input-intensive to knowledge-intensive agriculture.