India is home to 17.7% of the world’s population and this share is constantly growing. Fulfilling the hunger burden of this burgeoning populace is becoming a challenge. Technology innovation is the only way to meet these challenges in the face of limited land and labor availability.
The only means to tackle this issue is by increasing crop productivity, by the gradual shift from traditional farming to automated and sustainable systems. Agricultural technology,or say AgriTech, offers great potential to increase efficiencies in farming. In fact, agtechis not merely a technical means, but it is a necessity if we are to meet the food security challenges of the future.
However, contrasting state of Indian agriculture presents a number of challenges in agtechadoption in rural spaces. The most taunting question on the agtechfurtherance in the world is whether their growth will be limited due to lack of growth in internet accessibility. These are times when telecom companies are boasting about ‘faster’internet speed and larger consumer base, yet the lack of penetration of broadband connectivity even in 2020 is a cause of concern.
Only 16% of rural users access the Internet for financial transactions, according to . The connectivity between the rural India and the rest of the world over broadband is a bigger infrastructural gap to focus on.
“Infrastructure needs to be made a lot better and services need to be more affordable to achieve the desired growth in Internet usage in rural areas,” said BiswapriyaBhattacharjee, executive vice-president of Kantar IMRB. To increase the data consumption, however, the next generation of products such as healthtech, fintech and agritech will act as the driving force to change the pattern of lower data consumption where the accessibility is not an issue.
The better mobile internet networking and upgraded broadband strength enables much faster data transmission between smartphones and other connected devices or farm equipment. Better connectivity means that data integration can be seamless.
Internet when aided with smart agricultural tools and practices such as Farm Management ERPs, data collection sensors, and automation can compound the benefits of technology for farming. By enabling machines to communicate with each other faster, farming will prove to be the most dynamic advancement in farming since the green revolution.
Countries with better internet connectivity and network penetration such as the Netherlands, have leveraged it to maximize their farming efficiency. The Netherlands is currently experimenting with fully automated farms where self-driven tractors sow seeds, sensor drones monitor crops and smaller machines take samples to identify which and where the fertilizer and pesticides need to be applied. Using tech, the labor required to farm even huge tracts of land is quite minimal.
Better broadband means better connectivity which could be used in Remote Sensing technologies, Geographical Information Systems, and GPS. Farmers can use a combination of these tools to observe crops at the field level. Discrepancies of soil or crop characteristics, air, soil, weather parameters, and crop status can all be recorded and assessed in real-time, enabling smarter decisions on the fly.
Here are a few ways to leverage broadband infrastructure for smart farming in the farm management lifecycle.
Global agriculture has been facing challenging situations due to changing climatic factors. The temperature rise has also manifested its detrimental effects on the yield of crops and surge in new pathogenic disease and pests.
Smart farming has proven to be a boon to the farming community by dealing with the effects of climate change. By aiding in the collection of data from remote sensors, tools also use artificial intelligence to forecast pest outbreaks.
Smart farmers in Punjab are already tackling crop disease issues by monitoring parameters such as rainfall, temperature, humidity, etc., and collecting data through remote sensors. By this, they can access the crop’s proneness to a certain disease and act on time to prevent an outbreak.Smart farming in India has given immense possibilities for food security and higher yields for its largely agrarian economy.
Smart farming enabled tools to help in weeding crops as well. Hoes fitted with weed detection cameras can help identify the definite crop rows and navigate implements to remove weeds carefully without affecting the standing crop. Site-specific treatment of weeds and pests in a large farm using drones can help reduce the manual labor involved in the farming process and reduce the chance of compromised yield.
The automation of irrigation is yet another great application of smart farming. The available water in an area can be detected by soil sensors and using a dendrometer, the water stress of plants is measured when connected to smartphones or any other devices. Internet infrastructure provides faster real-time connectivity and data transfer from the field to the server helping improve efficiencies in irrigation.
With the traditional farming method, farmers apply fertilizers through drip or fertigation units based on soil test analysis. This is not very accurate. With fertigation devices enabled with the internet of things (IoT), farmers can assess their farms from a distance, and apply fertilizers in appropriate volumes through machines. It can also enable them to see the current pH value of the soil and make amendments with the help of remote sensors.
The hassle involved in monitoring the field activities, soil differences, water availability, pest, or disease outburst at very large scale farms is a huge headache. But thanks to cheap drone tech and remote sensors that enable timely monitoring, farmers are able to closely monitor their crops without employing huge manpower.
Smart farming technology also has great potential in maintaining the health and productivity of large animal farms. Smart farms make it possible to connect various machines and instruments in the farm such as milking robots, feeding instruments, health status, and Wi-Fi collars to help in easy farm management. With the data sources saved in the cloud, it helps ranchers or cattle farmers to access animal health in real-time. This has helped maximize resource utilization, minimal pollution, reduced overhead charges, and has led to better animal wellbeing.
As beneficial smart farming sounds, it is still in its budding stages in India. Large companies like Tata Kisan Kendra, an initiative by Tata Chemical Limited have started off the smart farming revolution in India by providing services to the farming community with the help of remote sensing to examine soil parameters, pest attack, crop health status, crop yield analysis.
Since India is a largely agrarian economy with many small farmers, there is a need for such public-private partnerships and government impetus to help farmers adopt such tech and increase productivity. Smart farming will take the agro-industry by storm, however, extensive research into making the user experience friendlier and accessible to the last mile is the major challenge that has to be solved.