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Digitisation In Agriculture: A Necessity For India

Use of digital technology requires efficient and reliable power supply that reaches to every nook and corner of farming community in general and farmers. The electrical connectivity is as important as digital connectivity.

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The world is speeding towards a digital economy, the importance of which has been reinforced by the pandemic. With a move towards digitisation leading to greater efficiency and transparency across all sectors of economy, it was only a matter of time that agriculture sector too would experience its inevitability and follow suit.

As per Niti Ayog’s report on Artificial Intelligence, to maintain an annual growth rate of 8-10%, agriculture must grow at 4% or higher rate presently. To achieve this kind of success, digitisation is critically important. The use of technology includes sensor-assisted soil assessment, which is backed by digitisation, automated monitoring of free-ranging animals on pastures, and the targeted control of agricultural machinery. Modern farming methods should enable the management of spatial and temporal variability within plots of land. The produce and the farm products management, logistics, Mandis and retail sellers are using digitisation in a big way and reaping the benefits of reduction in agri-waste, efficiency in cost optimisation. Internet of Things, nanotechnology along with digital education are the 3 main elements that form the foundation of digitization in farm sector.

When we speak about using technology in agriculture, two terms come up at regular intervals, "precision farming" and "smart farming". The former involves creating new production and management techniques that make intensive and efficient use of data regarding a specific location and crop. A similar concept in digitisation is smart farming, also known as “Farming 4.0” is the application of information and data technologies for optimising complex farming systems. The integration of smart agricultural technology with modern data integration technologies enables planting to be adapted to a specific field, to ensure an efficient and transparent production process. The application of information technology supports farmers in making intelligent decisions based on concrete data. It also enables individuals to get specialised solutions, granular information of direct use rather than a general policy overview which the centre or state government publishes. Farmers can also cut out some of the steps in plantation

processes, transportation of produce from farm to plate, along with efficient documentation, operation, as well as funding applications. Drones and robots extensively used in power sector, renewable solar and wind power plants for monitoring and data analysis can similarly be used for mapping and collecting data from the farm fields and plantations.

Digitisation and agriculture have massive potential, despite this, several issues have to be addressed before this can be widely adopted and successfully executed:

· Digital divide is an ongoing issue in India for a while. According to the monthly report released by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India in June 2020, the country had over 1160 million wireless subscribers as of February 2020. Presently, more than 400 million people do not have access to the internet. A small minority in India can operate the internet.

· The natural soil biology can be destroyed if technology is not used with caution. Soil erosion must never result from the proper use of technology, especially on large agricultural areas. This is highly likely to happen when the farmer is not educated in technology and soil science, which is the experience in India.

· Chances are that small farmers may be left behind, given that he/she might not have the resources needed for investment in digital technology, nor the outreach to learn about new and upcoming technology.

· Use of digital technology requires efficient and reliable power supply that reaches to every nook and corner of farming community in general and farmers. The electrical connectivity is as important as digital connectivity.

The government and private sector have recognised the potential in this sector, due to which many new initiatives are seeing light. For example, Microsoft has developed an “AI-Sowing App”, in collaboration with International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-arid Tropics (ICRISAT). This application sends advisory to the farmers regarding the optimal date of seed-sowing. The farmers neither need to install any sensor on their farm nor incur any capital investment. Off-late, NITI Aayog has partnered with IBM to develop a crop yield prediction model backed by AI to provide real-time data and communicate the required advisory to farmers. IBM’s AI model for predictive insights helps to improve crop productivity, soil quality, control agricultural inputs and early warning on disease outbreak. The data will be sourced from Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the existing soil health card database, Indian Meteorological Department’s (IMD) weather prediction, and crop phenology etc. to give accurate and timely advisory to farmers. The project is being implemented in 10 “Aspirational Districts” across Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Assam. Additionally, “Blue River” project has designed and integrated computer vision with machine learning technology that will help cultivators to reduce the use of fertilisers and herbicides by spraying only where and when needed, optimising the use of farm inputs, which is the key objective of precision agriculture. The government is giving its own push in the digital direction. Recent initiatives include Kisan Suvidha, Pusa Krishi, Farm-o-pedia App, Crop Insurance Android App, Agri-Market, M-Kisan Application, Shetkari Masik Android App etc.

Digitisation is the future of all sectors in the economy, not just agriculture. Ease of use, accessibility, familiarity, acceptability, popularisation of benefits to the farmers who are quick to learn and appreciate the benefits, Farmer is the last mile in employing digitisation, government should spend time and money for socialising the digitisation benefits, private sector should join forces and India’s leading software companies can help.