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    Five ways tech can change the future of farming in India

    Five ways tech can change the future of farming in India

    Five ways tech can change the future of farming in India
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    By Puneet Sethi   IST (Updated)

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    The use and adoption of tech in the agri space has been far behind the curve as compared to other sectors.

    While agriculture’s share in India’s economy has progressively declined, even today agriculture, directly and indirectly, occupies over 50 percent of India’s workforce and contributes to around 17 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). With a growing population and rising incomes in the cities, there is more and more burden to produce more and better, in terms of quantity and quality. However, agri stakeholders primarily farmers still face many challenges — government apathy, uneven climate, no easy access to credit, exploitative market practices and a fragmented supply chain to name a few key issues.
    As with many other sectors today, leveraging technology helps alleviate a lot of these above-mentioned challenges. Being a more traditional space, the use and adoption of tech in the agri space has been far behind the curve as compared to other sectors. The recent explosion in the use of smartphones in the rural areas has helped in agri taking its first concrete steps towards technology adoption.
    Another factor that has kickstarted technology penetration in agri has been the meteoric rise in the number of startups in agri space in the past couple of years. Both on the input side (pre-harvest) and the post-harvest side, several entrepreneurs have taken it upon themselves to solve the Agri crisis and modernize India’s Agri processes.
    The convergence of mobile networks, broadband internet, cloud platforms, IoT, AI and open data has started the transformation in the Agri sector and all signs indicate a higher impact in near future.
    Following are some key high impact areas across pre and post-harvest where technology can help:
    Soil Testing
    Soil testing helps evaluate nutrient levels in the soil and determine fertility. Once this data is available, it is easy to identify what nutrients (fertilizers) are needed to replenish the soil. This helps dictate both the type of crops and overall yield. Technology that makes soil testing on-site, faster, easier and provides accurate analysis that can be easily disseminated to the farmers would go a long way in helping farmers increase yield by making informed decisions in the choice of crop patterns, crop diversification and inputs such as seeds and fertilizers.
    Agri Inputs Access
    Agri inputs broadly include seeds, fertilizers, insecticides, etc. and could be extended to capital type inputs such as tractors and farm equipment materials that are often a larger investment. From a tech perspective, eCommerce and mobile solutions with their reach and distribution can play an important role. With improvement in farmer incomes and easier credit access, this model could be the way forward with access to agri inputs.
    As this area matures, with the advent and spread of IoT/sensors, cloud-based solutions, agri inputs’ needs identification to order to fulfillment process could be fully automated using Artificial Intelligence (AI) type of solutions in the background, a concept fast picking up pace in developed agri economies.
    Microfinancing
    As much as 80 percent of farmers in India are small marginal landholders that use traditional methods of production. Most of these farmers lack economies of scale as a result of small-scale production, resulting in a high per capita cost and generally low production levels. Finance is typically inadequate or in other cases just not accessible. Here is where microfinancing has a very important role to play — it helps poor farmer households meet basic needs, protects against risks and most importantly aids improvement in income. More so, since the conventional means of loans from the bank takes anywhere from 3-12 months, involves a ton of paperwork and additional fees and charges.
    There are startups and established companies doing good work in the space. To avoid risk of NPAs, these companies leverage tech to build an entire ecosystem around microcredit lending.
    Crop Insurance
    The Indian Agri space is very prone to disasters and risks beyond our control. Considering that the majority of the farmers' livelihood is dependent on the quality and quantity of the yield they produce, crop insurance becomes vital as it helps reduce the negative impact on the lives of the farmers.
    On these lines, the Government had launched Prime Minister’s Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) in 2016, an insurance service for the farmers across India. Whether it is a government-sponsored plan or otherwise, farmers can benefit from the rapidly spreading internet connectivity to explore and avail this insurance with information at their fingertips.
    Technology also benefits crop insurance in several other ways, for e.g.
    • Satellite weather forecasting and satellite imagery can better equip insurers with early warnings of risks and in turn, farmers too, can be alerted and losses reduced or prevented.
    • Internet of things (IoT),can perform more accurately the task of collecting information on soil health, monitoring crops, and collecting crop data.
    • Satellites, drones, mobile cameras can be a highly cost-effective means of collecting data on the area under production, yield estimation, etc.
    • Market Linkage and Access
      While there are several technology benefits on the pre-harvest side, on the post-harvest side, technology can provide the most immediate benefit to farmers and agri in general via farm linkage and market access to farmers. Market linkage and access solutions are being provided by all types of companies working in the Agri sector — inputs advisory, micro-financing companies and most widely by supply chain companies that buy directly from farmers and sell produce in the cities, giving farmers a better price at their doorstep.
      Companies utilize technology to onboard farmers, profile them and help provide them with a demand forecast that enables farmers to be sure of a market, as well as move towards crop diversification and higher-income produce. Elimination of middlemen, optimization of transport and most importantly a better match of demand and supply — all of these factors help with raising farmer income and also help minimize distribution losses that have plagued India Agri space for decades.
      -Puneet Sethi is the Director and Co-Founder of Farmpal, an agritech startup. The views expressed are personal.
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