Future Farms – Small and Smart

Dr. Amol Navangul CEO & Managing Director | Maytra Noesis Advisors
Dr. Amol Navangul CEO & Managing Director | Maytra Noesis Advisors

India ranks 2nd in the world in agriculture output and has agriculture as the most significant economic sector, yet almost 42% of the Indian population is below the poverty line. Moreover, the country faces a severe shortfall in the foaod supply, continued inflation resulting in ever-increasing food prices, and sustained pressure on supply-chains due to a faster population growth rate against the country’s ability to produce. The primary reasons for wrongs in this sector are inefficient agricultural practices that are economically and environmentally below par and unsustainable, marginal landholding limiting the ability of smallholder farmers to support his family economically and benefit from the market price realization, and lack of consensual political will to reform the sector or the land management.

Small and smart farming can present an alternative to arrest the decline of this sector and steer it towards sustainable growth, despite prevailing policy paralysis and ills of supply-chain or productivity. Smart farming (also known as precision agriculture) is focused on providing the agricultural industry with the infrastructure to leverage advanced technology, which, apart from modern farming techniques such as aeroponics, aquaponics, hydroponics, or monoculture, include big data, the cloud, and the internet of things (IoT) for tracking, monitoring, automating, and analyzing farming operations.

It includes using technology such as sensors for soil and crop scanning, water, light, humidity, and temperature management, advanced networking, GPS, web-based solutions, robotics, and automation. It facilitates precise data capture and data analytics tools for decision making and prediction, focused on crop yields, soil-mapping, climate change, fertilizer applications, weather data, farm machinery, pest control, and animal health. It uses satellites and drones for round-the-clock data and image gathering to remotely monitor agriculture activity.

Precise Predictions & Big Data: Use of big data and artificial intelligence tools provide farmers the necessary information to improve harvest yield, oversee risk, and increase efficiency, thus removing uncertainty. It assists them in deciding the best seeds, optimal usage of fertilizers, pest control measures, and other agriculture inputs. It facilitates their timely intervention on account of weather uncertainties, damage control, or cropping cycle adjustments. They can cut down the middleman and deal with merchants to capture fair prices.

Artificial Intelligence: AI-based cutting-edge tools can help in attaining accuracy and cost-effectiveness. Whether in farm equipment for plantation, fertilizer treatment, or detecting disease or pest in plants and identifying poor nutrition of farms. They help in improving the overall harvest quality and yield. In addition, AI sensors can detect and target weeds and then decide which herbicide to apply within the region.

Robotics and Bots: Some of the typical farm activities now done by the robots are harvesting and picking, weed control, autonomous mowing, pruning, seeding, spraying, and thinning, phenotyping, sorting, and packing, and utility platforms to attain maximum efficiency and production certainty. For example, today’s nanoscience-based sensor can intelligently recognize different species of plants and either zap them with a laser for weed control or apply a micro-droplet of chemical to a leaf, achieving a 99.99% reduction in the volume of herbicides.

Geo-Spatial Farming: Smart farming utilizes remote sensing and GIS applications to analyze soil data and determine which crops to plant where and how to maintain soil nutrition and soil moisture to benefit the plants. GIS in agriculture helps farmers achieve increased productivity and reduced costs by enabling better management of land resources. Farmers can gather knowledge about weeds, soil type, dampness content, production (ripeness), rate of seeds, need for manures, and other such factors, to best decide about farming activity.

Deep Learning: It constitutes a technique for image processing and data analysis, which can play a crucial part in giving important data to farmers on different issues, such as soil health, genetic engineering of seeds, best practices for planting and picking crops, checking the health of the animals, getting guidelines and approaches, getting the right financial aid, and suitable government schemes to leverage.

Drones: They help farmers to optimize the use of inputs (seed, fertilizers, water), to react more quickly to threats (weeds, pests, fungi), to save time crop scouting (validate treatment/actions taken), to improve variable-rate prescriptions in real-time and estimate yield from a field. They help in increasing production by diminishing expenses and misfortune in agricultural produce by supervision work. Drones, thus ensure permanent monitoring of the crop in the field from planting to harvest in terms of plant counting (plant size, plot statistics), plant height (crop height, density), vegetation indices (leaf area, anomaly detection, treatment efficacy, infestations, phenology), and water needs (damage/drown out).

Technology can assist farmers in predicting climate far more accurately. It optimizes the use of resources to increase farm yield and address the uncertainties faced by them, whether in farms, in terms of productivity or in the market, in terms of price realization thus, to substantially increase their farm income. In the recent past, Drones were effectively used in Rajasthan to shield agricultural produce from locust attacks; NABARD is effectively using GIS imagery and geospatial analytics to assess the impact of their various financial schemes; while a Pune-based startup has created a digital platform that can monitor and capture farm-level data and deliver real-time advisory on season-wise crop configurations, weather-based advisory, information about sowing, soil health, seed treatment, fertilizer application, treatment of crop disease, and treatment of livestock. India’s farmers should be motivated and financially assisted through an adequately designed assistance package focused on technology adaptation to be able to benefit from such an opportunity, to create deserved wealth for themselves and the economy.

About the Author

Dr. Amol Navangul is an experienced business leader and entrepreneur managing infrastructure advisory, conflict consultancy, and cleantech venture businesses. He is a senior international professional having expertise in green-growth, climate-finance, trade-finance, and environmental econometrics. With a career spanning 29+ years, Amol Navangul is experienced business leader managing global consulting and cleantech businesses, and an international professional having expertise in green-growth, climate-finance, and environmental econometrics. Under Maytra Group, he leads climate adaptation and mitigation project consulting and EPC practice comprising of green buildings, resilient infrastructure, and climate-smart agriculture. Maytra Group works across more than 40 countries. Amol’s specific sectoral expertise includes renewable energy, agriculture, infrastructure, and cities. He is an Engineering graduate, MBA, MBL, and has PhD in Environmental Economics.

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