India’s Digital Agriculture Mission is about individuals, not initiatives

In September 2021, the Union Minister Narendra Singh Tomar introduced the initiation of the ‘Digital Agriculture Mission 2021–2025’. The initiative goals to leverage a variety of applied sciences from AI, blockchain together with drone expertise to enhance the sector’s general efficiency. 

“An ecosystem strategy was the one approach ahead to handle the agriculture sector holistically”, claims the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare in its report.

Though the initiative is but to be finalised, the division has constituted an knowledgeable job pressure accountable for consolidating the ‘India Digital Ecosystem of Agriculture (IDEA)’ report. 

(Picture supply: Session paper on IDEA)

This job pressure is predicted to plan a framework for creating ‘Agristack’, that may function a basis to construct modern agri-focused options by leveraging digital applied sciences to enhance the general efficacy of the agricultural sector. 

This can be a welcome step from the Authorities of India. Over the previous few a long time, agriculture has advanced by leveraging expertise, reworking the genetics of crops and mechanising farm operations. However, the query we have to ask is whether or not that may be sufficient? Regardless of all of the technological developments, agriculture is among the many least digitised business segments in India.

Digital initiatives 

Thus far, the federal government has launched varied digital initiatives to enhance the agriculture sector. 

As an example, in 2016, the federal government launched the ‘Nationwide Agriculture Market’ (eNAM)—a pan-India digital buying and selling portal which hyperlinks the prevailing Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) mandis to create a unified nationwide market to assist farmers promote their merchandise with out the interference of middlemen.

In 2013, the federal government launched the ‘Direct Profit Switch’ (DBT) central agri portal to function a unified central portal for agricultural schemes throughout the nation. The portal assists farmers in acquiring authorities subsidies for adopting trendy farm machineries.

The coverage atmosphere in India too is conducive and is evolving in parallel to go well with the rising wants. 

“Nonetheless, much more must be achieved by way of creating mandatory infrastructurefor storage, processing and distribution of agri produce, and for tele-connectivity”, says B Gopalakrishnan, Head–Samunnati Startup Initiative.

The Unified Farmer Service Interface (UFSI) might probably be crucial constructing block of IDEA. 

UFSI is envisaged to affect the agricultural sector in an analogous approach to UPI (Unified Fee Interface) modified the funds panorama. 

“Whereas UPI has reworked the fee techniques by optimising the underlying processes and offering a set of APIs for identification, authentication, and authorisation, UFSI is required to deal with a number of sorts of transactions within the digital agriculture house”, the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare report stated.

UFSI would enable varied stakeholders corresponding to knowledge suppliers and knowledge customers to change knowledge in an environment friendly, clear and organised method. 

Tech options for agricultural challenges 

In recent times, the Indian agricultural sector has braved many challenges—mainly low yields. When in comparison with growing nations, India’s farm yield is 30~50 per cent decrease. By expertise options like precision farming which leverages AI, farmers might considerably enhance their yields and productiveness.

Moreover, the Indian agricultural sector has been affected by continual issues like inefficient logistics, substandard infrastructure—storage, processing and distribution—leading to crop wastage as excessive as 40 per cent. 

Rao shares that agriculture in India has additionally been perennially slowed down with issues of finance, enter high quality and provides, agronomy, post-harvest storage, transport and processing, advertising and marketing, worth to the patron, environmental degradation, uncertainties as a result of climate, markets and different components.

The ‘Digital Agriculture Mission’ is extensively believed to have the potential to resolve these issues.

Additional, in an already turbulent trajectory, ‘local weather change’ is wreaking havoc on the very nature of farming operations and its general final result—lowering water provide yr on yr; degrading arable lands; meals insecurity; pest infestation; crop illnesses; diminishing yield high quality and amount, the record of challenges appears by no means ending.

By leveraging expertise and knowledge, ecosystem gamers can carry important productiveness positive factors, improve crop high quality and yield output, improve provide chain transparency, scale back meals wastage, empower farmer livelihood and allow local weather sensible agriculture”, emphasises Kunal Prasad.

Challenges within the implementation of digital agriculture 

Utilising expertise to create a extra environment friendly agricultural sector is the very best strategy to resolve present points within the agricultural sector however not with out its personal set of challenges. 

E.V.S. Prakasa Rao factors out that India’s funding in agricultural analysis is significantly decrease compared to its international rivals. Within the final 20 years, India’s R&D expenditure was merely 0.6~0.7 per cent of its GDP—considerably decrease in comparison with the US (2.8 per cent) and China (2.1 per cent). 

As well as, good knowledge is important for AI fashions to work effectively and will show difficult to gather. “By multi stakeholder engagements, startups and industries driving digital improvements, there’s a want for a powerful knowledge ecosystem”, claims Purushottam Kaushik, Head -Centre for Fourth Industrial Revolution, India at World Financial Discussion board.

Presently, there could also be expertise options that might considerably enhance our agricultural sector however delivering these options to the top customers would nonetheless show to be a problem since a majority of Indian farmers are small-holders. 

Additionally, decrease digital literacy within the grass root stage nonetheless stays a priority. Most of them nonetheless depend on conventional resource-intensive farming strategies. For these farmers to have the ability to use trendy applied sciences to enhance their yields, they would wish entry to plain infrastructure.

Additional, contemplating an answer supplier’s perspective, Rao believes that it’s a herculean job to grasp the complexity of the atmosphere—number of crops, local weather zones, soil situations—and to seize this complexity underneath the digital umbrella.

Different points like smaller and fragmented landholdings; low literacy ranges; poor digital literacy; subpar communication infrastructure; and lack of entry to formal monetary techniques might additionally emerge as potent challenges in implementing digital agriculture in India.

AI in agriculture 

In response to a report by the Niti Aayog, AI in agriculture is predicted to develop at a charge of twenty-two.5 per cent CAGR and attain a valuation of $2.6 billion by 2025. Presently, AI assists farmers in attaining larger yield by means of higher crop choice, hybrid seed choice and useful resource utilisation. It is usually used to assist farmers develop seasonal forecasting fashions to enhance farming accuracy and productiveness. 

The proposed subsequent step is to make this expertise obtainable to a a lot bigger part of the agricultural sector in India. 

AI is already serving to farmers in several components of the nation in understanding processes in agriculture, creating choice making capabilities and in delivering worth added providers to the farmers and customers. 

Rao claims that AI options might present traceability to help the patron. Within the context of Indian agriculture, these options might crucially improve the scope of employment and bridge gaps in supply channels to offer credit score, incentives, subsidies, and insurance coverage to the farmers.

Concurrently, AI may be helpful for grading and sorting machines; realtime discipline monitoring and crop yield predictions; correct value forecasts; monitoring soil moisture; and regulating irrigation, and extra. 

Agritech startups

Digitising the Indian agricultural sector is expectedly an arduous job. Non-public sector indubitably has an necessary position to play within the success of such initiatives. Non-public gamers might create an immense worth for the agriculture sector in delivering digital options to farmers and customers. 

Digital agriculture in India cannot emerge as a profitable enterprise with out a wholesome private-public partnership. In generic phrases, the general public sector might focus extra on analysis, infrastructure, coverage and assist techniques whereas the “personal sector might focus extra on customisation, dynamical agronomy, worth addition and supply. Nonetheless, each ought to work in tandem and contain farmers, Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) and customers”, says E.V.S. Prakasha Rao.

Majority Indian agritech corporations goal to offer modern options to handle a wide range of points—enhancing traceability, reducing wastage within the provide chain, monitoring actual time climate—to recommend actionable recommendation on pest management and crop illness administration.

“Partnerships notably, PPP are important to leverage the synergy between the general public sector and the brand new age agtech gamers. Whereas the previous can carry important expertise within the agri sector together with funding, the latter can complement with their tech-driven, new-age options”, claims B Gopalakrishnan. 

Purushottam Kaushik, Head-Centre for Fourth Industrial Revolution, India at World Financial Discussion board, additionally emphasised on the significance of sandboxes—“In partnership with Agri universities, analysis establishments sandboxes are required for co-innovations and validation of agriculture improvements earlier than scaled adoption.”

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