When technology drives farming

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That day will come when agriculture is backed up by viable digital platforms and an innovative, scientific environment

From somewhere in the hinterland of India

December 31, 2022

Namaskar. I am Sitabai. I am a farmer. I have three acres of land in Kolthur village and solar-powered electricity. I clicked a picture of my soil and uploaded through an app to find out what’s new about my soil. The prescription came out and I have soil rejuvenation in my task list. The smartphone keeps reminding me about this every day till I actually do it.

This soil report entered into my farm intelligence tool gave me ideas about what I can grow, given my location, soil condition, water condition, expected monsoon and expected market prices. Finally I made my choice by clicking on ‘cucumber’ for an acre. Farming is cool.

Three dealers in my vicinity called me offering a ‘crop kit’ that contains seeds, nutrients in day-wise sachets, vaccines for plants, and medicines for common problems. I just need to open the packet of nutrients for that day, empty it into a drum and the nutrients automatically reach every plant through drip. As I place the order for the crop kit, the amount gets deducted from my mobile money and it creates an overdraft for shortfall. Also, I borrowed a temporary shade net for 4 months of summer to beat the heat. I get my kit home with an Amazon-like experience. Farming is fun.

This sale has insurance embedded in it. If there are any surprises on the climate front after sowing, the dealer sends one more packet of seeds to ensure that we don’t miss the season, for no extra payment. I don’t have to run behind anyone for insurance now. The dealer does that. Farming is smart.

I booked a tractor using my mobile phone. I get video lessons on my mobile about production practices. It has a video calling helpline support too. My village drone daily captures pictures of my farm. In 10 minutes, it analyses the leaves and indicates areas of concern, which I will act upon. I need to spend just two hours a day in the field for this. Farming is easy!

The visuals trigger harvest suggestions and buyers can bid for cucumbers online after seeing the pictures and videos of my crop. Trade takes place in a transparent national exchange, where the base price is 2x actual cost of production. Buyers with the best bid get to buy my produce and I get my mobile money upon delivery at the farm gate. Farming is money.

I am Sitabai, a farmer. In 2018, my women’s group was empowered with climate smart technologies. Today, the phrase ‘small farmer’ is a sign of strength, not weakness. I learnt how to read and write. My children go to school. We are healthy and happy.

February 24, 2018

Let’s come back to today. Sitabai’s story may seem utopian, but it is possible if we act on three aspects today.

Firstly, all services that farmers require are not available easily. Extending the way the Aadhaar ecosystem built India Stack, we should build a digital backbone for agriculture. It should be a system which ensures that all aspects of farming from soil testing to selling produce happen in an integrated and seamless manner. We see how Amazon, Paytm, Swiggy and Uber have entered the lives of urban consumers. As individual farmers cannot afford to create services for themselves, private enterprises should build this on a Build-Operate-Transfer model.

Secondly, what makes this happen could be startups. We should create an enabling ecosystem for startups to start, fail, learn and succeed. Transformative change doesn’t happen from the existing system. An important consideration here is challenging the status quo and solving real problems. Startups, if supported by accelerators and adequate risk capital, can be the changemakers that disrupt the sector. The Government can encourage startups by giving them a ten-year tax break and exempting agri services from GST. We saw how power generation tripled after this benefit was given to power generating companies.

Finally, entrepreneurs will be more successful if they work scientifically; and scientists need to understand the market. The ministry of communications and information technology established Software Technology Parks of India (STPI) in 1991 to encourage, promote, and boost the export of software. This created a level playing field for giants like Infosys, TCS and Wipro to compete with global tech players. Now, we need Agriculture Technology Parks of India (ATPI) to bring the best of the technology and knowhow in agriculture to emerging agricultural enterprises in India. This could trigger path-breaking agricultural technologies.

If we orient all our horses in the right direction, the agricultural GDP of the country can go up from today’s $495 billion to a trillion dollars by 2022 and Sitabai’s story will become the norm, not the exception.

The writer is co-founder and president of Kheyti, an agri-tech startup

Source: Hindu Business Line

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