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Digital Farming: Everything You Need To Know About Digitization In Agriculture

When we talk about digitization in the agriculture of India, we always think about fancy technology coming to the farmer’s field. But this is not true. Digitization in Indian agriculture is something beyond this fancy technology. 

In fact, looking at the Indian context, about 85% of the farmers are still small and marginal and can`t use these technologies. So does that mean that Digitization in Agriculture is not possible in India? The answer would be ‘No’. Digitization in Indian agriculture is possible, it has a wide scope. 

In fact, we are excelling in the digital space. India agtech startups who are bringing digitalization have raised around $248mn of capital in 2019. Currently, India has a total of more than 500 agtech startups bringing digitization to agriculture through their innovative technology ideas. These startups are not only catering to large farmers of India but also providing technology to small and marginal farmers.

Let us try to understand what these technologies are and how they can be utilized to help the majority of Indian farmers who are small and marginal. Stay tuned till the end to know everything about digital farming or digitization in agriculture perhaps.

What is Digital Farming?

Do you remember, before 2016 how you were paying your money to a taxi driver? I know the answer, it is through cash right? But now you might be using Gpay, Paytm, phonepe, or any such mobile application for making payment correct? If you understand the transition between the cash payment and the payment through such a digital wallet platform then voila, you understand Digitalization. If you observe closely, in making digital payment you use your Mobile phone, Internet, Cloud Service, and other features through digital infrastructure provided by the company that owns the payment platform.  

As similar to the above example is digital farming. If farmers start to use mobile, tablets or laptop while using the internet to perform the daily task of their farm right from sowing till harvesting and finally selling the product in the market will be called digitization in agriculture. 

All the farming activities are optimized and made efficient through different technology features developed by various companies. Hence farmers whose activity was more physical can automate the process of farms and decrease the burden. This is called Digital farming. 

Having said that, it is important to know whether Indian small and marginal farmers are ready for such technology. What kind of technology is good for them and how can they benefit out of it?

Let us know about different technology currently present in the Indian agriculture sector. And their utility to the farming population.

Irrigation system

Timely irrigation to the field crops is a challenge. Irrigation if not given at the required time will lead to heavy consequences to a farmer. The irrigation practice is done by the farmer following the unchanged crop schedules followed by the years without looking at the actual need for irrigation. Ideally, irrigation should only be given when the soil moisture level is below the threshold which can harm the crops eventually. However, farmers irrigate the field without looking at these factors which lead to water wastage. 

Today, we have Digital Agriculture solutions for this. Many companies have developed the mechanism to automate the irrigation system. The soil moisture sensors are installed at different parts of the field which periodically track the moisture level of the soil. Whenever the soil moisture level is lower than the threshold, it sends the signal to the irrigation pump installed at the farm. 

The irrigation pump through the radio signals sends the message to the farmer’s mobile asking permission to start irrigation. Once the farmer gives the permission, the pump will automatically start irrigating the field till it gets the signal from the soil moisture sensor to stop the water flow. 

Check the animation video of this process here

Sensors

As we talked about sensors above, let us understand how sensors are useful and make the digitalization of agriculture possible. The IoT sensors are of various types. And every sensor has its distinct role to play in the field. Digital farming solutions are not possible without the help of sensors as they generate data directly from the field. 

These sensors are installed at every part of the field and enabled to generate the raw data. The data taken will be passed on to the cloud where the data is analyzed automatically and some of the important results are received at the farmer’s end.

The following is the typical picture of the IoT devices integrated and installed at the farm by one of the IoT device companies in India. 

(Image Source: https://fasal.co/)

iot-sensors-in-farm

The image shows that there are many sensors integrated into a single device which is finally installed at the farm. Let us look individually at the function of every sensor so that you can have a clear idea of how these sensors bring digitalization in agriculture.

Wind speed and direction sensor
This sensor measures the speed of the wind and the direction as well. The best thing is that the data gathered is hyperlocal and precisely of the farmer’s field.
Rain Gauge
Rain gauge measures the level of rainfall in the given period of time.
Lux meter
The lux meter measures the brightness of the light in a given period of time.
Leaf wetness
This measures the wetness on the surface of the leaf, which can be utilized to estimate the irrigation requirement.
Temperature, Humidity, Air pressure
All the data regarding the temperature, humidity, and air pressure are taken from the field.

These were some of the important sensors used to bring technology in agriculture. The data collected from this device will be raw but will be very meaningful after analysis which could result in better production.

GPS Tractor:

See how this company has solved some of the major issues faced by the farmers related to their tractor use. Check the video here

Such technologies have changed the approach of the farmers who are still into the conventional approach. Such agriculture technology makes digitization more viable and farmer-friendly. Digital technology has reached so far that companies are making driverless tractors for the farmers where the land records are pre-fed to the system and tractors do the work of plowing automatically and in the meantime, farmers can complete their other important work. Have a look at this video

You might be thinking is it too early for India? I would say yes, it is a bit early for the Indian farmers but such technological inventions set the path of development India wants in its Agriculture. If today it is not that useful, it will be useful maybe in upcoming years. 

UAVs/Drones:

Whenever we hear about drones, it sounds too fancy and too useful in the context of Indian agriculture. And perhaps it is true. However, the data gives another picture. The present agriculture drone market has reached a whopping $1.3 billion. This shows the potential of drones in the market. Drones can solve many issues in individual fields. It can come up with many interesting insights which help the farmer to make informed decisions. Let us look at the utility of drones in the agriculture field:

  • Soil and field analysis
  • Crop monitoring
  • Weed identification
  • Pest and disease identification
  • Crop spraying
  • Crop health assessment
  • Livestock management

 

drones-in-farm

The government is also emphasizing adopting drone technology to solve some of the common problems of the farmers. Here is the recent article from The Hindu where the Director of research, ANGRAU emphasized the paddy farmers to adopt drone technology in their farms.

Weather data:

Weather is the most uncertain factor in agriculture. This unpredictability has caused severe loss of capital and produce. Hence it is important to estimate the correct weather and accordingly, the farmer should perform the task.

Gone are the days when a farmer would look up at the sky standing on his/her farm predicting the rainfall chances. Digital technology has enabled farmers to check the weather data on mobile devices. Farmers can check the weather data for the next five days by looking into their mobile devices by installing the application called Kisan Suvidha developed by the Government of India. Moreover, ISRO has developed its own geo-platform called Bhuvan through which the data can be collected and used for weather prediction, pest and disease surveillance.

kisan-suvidha-app

There are many startups working in the space-tech sector utilizing space technology and helping farmers predicting weather conditions. These startups install automated weather stations (AWS) in different areas from where real-time weather, as well as crop monitoring data, is collected. This data, after analysis, is disbursed to farmers through mobile messages or in-app notifications. These results help farmers to make informed decisions regarding irrigation, pesticide spraying, or intercultural practices. 

The following is the image of one of the weather station installed to collect real-time data 

Image source: (yourstory.com)

whether-station-installed-on-farm

Finances

The rural population is majorly deprived of financial services. Banks majorly target the urban consumer segment for giving all kinds of financial services like loans, insurances, savings deposits, etc. However, the rural community is ignored.  

How contradictory it is that in India, almost 72% of the population belong to rural areas though they are deprived of financial services. Though priority sector lending for agriculture is 18% still banks miss the target and fall short.

However, many fintech startups are into financial services catering directly to the rural masses. The farmers can directly apply for crop loans through their mobile apps. The apps use satellite imagery reports and identification documents for checking farmer authenticity. If everything goes correct, the loan is disbursed. So gone are the days when the farmer has to visit banks physically and wait for the disbursement. 

Image Source: (Krishi jagran)

online-agriculture-loan

There are few startups that are also making rural unorganized finances more organized by giving credit scores to the farmers. The farmers are also given loans for Agri machinery usage.  These startups in collaboration with the commercial banks give the credit to rural households. 

Even the State Bank of India (SBI) has launched the YONO app which gives a full banking experience. The part of this app is called YONO Krishi. This app enables the farmers to open a savings account and access the farm loan fast. On average about 22,000 loans are given by the YONO Krishi app digitally. 

Market linkage

The agriculture ecosystem is not complete without the supply chain of produce in the market. All the efforts of farmers throughout the agriculture year are because of the last step i.e. getting access to the market to sell the product at the best price available. 

It has often been observed that while discussing digital farming, the important point of market linkage is always neglected. In fact, the market linkage is the crucial aspect that will show the result of the digital farming technology. 

Farmer is the only individual in the economy who buys at retail price and sells at wholesale price.  Conventionally farmers don’t get to know about the price they will get for their produce till they physically visit the APMC market where the product will be auctioned. 

The cartelization of traders has also impacted the price and made the auction process just a formality. Hence, it is a major challenge for the farmer to know the real price of the product to cover the production cost.

To solve this APMC problem the Ministry of Agriculture and farmers welfare gave digital solutions in the form of e-NAM. eNAM is the platform where farmers can list their agri produce and get transparent prices from different traders present on the platform. Check this video to know how eNAM works:

But there is a problem with the model of eNAM. What if a farmer`s produce is accepted by traders from a different state then who will be taking care of the transportation. 

To solve this there are certain startups working to give their digital services to the farmer. They give end-to-end services to the farmer as well as various cooperative societies which will decrease the cost of the farmer.

Conclusion

Digitalization in agriculture is very wide as a concept. It has the potential to revolutionize the whole agriculture ecosystem which can lead to the exponential growth of the farming industry. The technology increases efficiency and eventually decreases farm costs, eventually helping the farmer.

Finally coming to our basic question. 

Is this technology helpful to the small and marginal farmers of the agricultural sector?

The answer is: `Partially`.

Yes, some of the digital technology may help small and marginal farmers. The technology developed for market linkage, finances, weather forecasting, etc. As they are freely available by the government as well as some of the startups in the form of services. 

But there is some technology that does have the potential to bring transformation in agriculture however can`t be a viable option for small farmers. These technologies are drones/UAVs, Automated farm machines, IoT sensors, smart farming, etc which brings precision agriculture into the picture.

However, there is one way to make this technology available to even small and marginal farmers. And the way is making a Farmer Producer Organization (FPO). The FPO is a group of such small farmers. Individually they may have less than 2 hectares of landholding but when the farmers unite and form an FPO they may have hundreds of hectares. And then such technology becomes a viable option for them.

Indian Agriculture has just started its journey of transformation. Yes, there are ample hurdles to achieve the supreme goal, but when there are challenges, there are opportunities also which can be explored. And one fine day will come when Indian agriculture will be booming and there will be smiles on every farmer of India.