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Sowing The Seeds Of Change For Digital Farming

Digital innovation in agriculture can have a transformative effect on productivity and profitability.

17/04/2017 6:32 PM IST | Updated 19/04/2017 12:04 PM IST
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The 2011 Census says there are 118.9 million cultivators across India or 24.6% of the total workforce of over 481 million. With such a large proportion of the working population employed in the sector, it is imperative that we not only strive to achieve food security for the nation through increased productivity of the farmers' work on the land, but also that farmers have income security through this increased productivity.

The Economic Survey 2012-2013 – Agriculture shows that India's average yield of cereal per hectare is far less than the average across other developing nations, and that it significantly trails China. There is also a notable inter-regional variation across Indian states when different crops are compared; Haryana and Punjab have a markedly higher yield of wheat and rice when compared with other states. Of course these variations are based on region-specific climates, crops, seasons and soils. But the interesting story here is about the data collected by agencies—whether governmental, non-governmental, or even from farmer cooperatives—which ICT4D experts use to help farmers increase farm productivity, profitability and manage risks of variable monsoons and markets.

Last year a pilot for the groundnut crop in Andhra Pradesh... showed how a mobile app and interactive dashboard for farmers could empower them with the right information, at the right time.

Cloud technology is just one of these technological innovations already being piloted in India among farming communities. Last year a pilot for the groundnut crop in Andhra Pradesh, run by a partnership between a private sector technology firm, state government and our agricultural research institute, showed how developing a mobile application and interactive dashboard for farmers could empower them with the right information, at the right time.

The dashboard uses a big data and advanced analytics suite to help farmers transform data about fluctuating markets and variable monsoons into intelligent action to increase farm productivity, profitability and manage risks. It provides important insights around soil health, fertiliser recommendations, and seven-day weather forecasts derived from the world's best available weather observations systems and global forecast models. This data is then downscaled for the highest possible accuracy at the village level, to transform how smallholder farmers tackle climate change to drive effective decision-making for their crops. The sowing app was developed to help farmers achieve optimal harvests by advising them on the best time to sow depending on weather conditions, soil and other indicators. It uses weather forecasting models and extensive data including rainfall over the last 45 years as well as 10 years of groundnut sowing progress data for Kurnool district. This data was then downscaled to build predictability and guide farmers to pick the ideal sowing week.

The pilot program results show a 30% higher average in yield per hectare for the groundnut crop. The success of this pilot suggests a path forward for digital agriculture in line with the Government of India's Digital India campaign, collaborating between sectors to share knowledge and develop innovative solutions.

But to improve the impact of these potentially transformative technologies, we first need focused platforms—whether specialist ICT4D conferences, working groups or associations—to foster dialogue between the development sector, private sector and governments, to explore partnerships and build on each other's experience. Dialogue is a vital component of the knowledge exchange needed to manage disruption and harness frontier technologies in productive ways so as to create sustainable impact among the communities and on the challenges that need it the most. In agriculture, we know that technology is the key to delivering sustainable solutions to increase both productivity and profitability of the smallholder farmers across India, and in so doing, to boost the agriculture sector in India.

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