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Agriculture sparked the beginning of civilisation. Our evolution as humans was only possible once we learnt how to grow and treat our own food. Today, digitisation has entered into every sphere of our activity, and the time has come to further propel our growth through digitising agricultural practices.
Technology has been responsible for the growth of farm productivity in both quantity and quality. Whether it be sensors, robot swarms or software to monitor and compile data, technology is the only guarantee agriculture has in a world with an increasing population and decreasing farmland.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, digitisation is the next logical step for agricultural businesses in India. The smart agriculture market stood at USD 13.2 Billion in 2019, and research suggests it is expected to reach USD 22 Billion by 2025. In fact, its importance to the agricultural sector is such that Niti Aayog has stressed that it will be impossible to maintain a 4% growth within the industry without digitising agriculture. So what's driving digitisation in the agricultural space, and why is this the right time to do so?
Factors Driving Agricultural Digitisation
1. Proper internet connectivity
This is a prerequisite for digitising processes in agriculture. Fortunately, India is on a fast track to achieving complete internet coverage, with mobile data becoming cheaper and broadband penetration growing at 35% pan-India for the last three years. This penetration rate is poised to grow even larger because of the increase in demand.
2. Rural electrification
Self-sustaining solar panels, wind turbines and small dams are now being constructed to provide villages with safe, sustainable and free electricity. Even though there is still a long way to go for complete rural electrification, the efforts will only support agricultural digitisation.
3. Impetus to go digital
The biggest hurdle for farmers who wish to digitise has been its high cost. Most Indian farm holdings are a mere 1.2 hectares. As much as smart farming can be implemented on American farms (180 hectares), it would be decidedly cost-prohibitive in India….or so it used to be. This challenge has been completely circumvented through numerous government initiatives. With programs such as a 2000 crore grant to digitise the Primary Agricultural Credit Society [PACS], initiation of the Management of Agricultural Extension in Hyderabad [MANAGE], the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana, and the mentoring of numerous AgriTech startups, the central government of India is monumentally supporting smart farming.
4. New Technology
With an explosion in technology, it is now possible to track the health of individual grains of crops, process weather information on an hourly basis, and even track the soil's fertility. By using such data-driven technology and automation, farmers can increase their average yield effortlessly. As technology gets more affordable, it finds more consumers as well as more applications. This is especially true in hydroponics, sensors, and automation markets. Moreover, technology assisting in decision-making, such as which crops will complement one another and how much watering is required based on weather predictions, is now a reality. Companies such as Fasal, Tata Krishi Kendra and Trimble are actively involved in digitising India's rural landscape.
Benefits of digitising agriculture
1. Improving soil quality
Furthermore, the heavy use of insecticides, pesticides, and fertilisers is rapidly degrading soil quality, which poses a challenge to better agricultural practices. It affects crop yield as well as crop quality. Digitising agrarian practices is one potential solution for soil recovery (within as few as three crop cycles) as it provides the avenue for careful crop selection and management of crop growth and allied factors.
2. Sustainable Farming
Big data analytics ensures that we can now analyse and monitor vast amounts of data to understand the natural relationship between crops, livestock, weather and soil. This results in the implementation of various sustainable practices that increase farm yield and decrease the use of pesticides and insecticides. It fosters a synergetic partnership between crops and livestock and even pisciculture.
3. Dynamic Marketplace
Digitisation ensures that farmers, both big and small, can now sell their goods for a fair price across the country and even worldwide. Moreover, agriculturalists can now predict the value of their crops and juxtapose it with the crop demand. This ensures effective monetisation of crop yield and the fulfilment of global agricultural demand. With potential rapid digitisation, the Indian agricultural landscape is just waiting to boom!
The biggest challenges to agricultural digitisation are said to be education and expense, but these can be overcome. With ample support from the government, NGOs and various agri-startups, the time is suitable for the Indian agricultural community to digitise. The average yield of rice in India is 3.85 tonnes/hectare (highest yield of rice is 9.82 tonnes/hectare- Australia) while the average yield of wheat is 2.8 tonnes/hectare (highest yield of wheat is 8.9 tonnes/hectare- Netherlands). The use of digitisation can completely alter these figures.
Digitisation is a promising way forward, and it is time that India's agricultural economy adopted it and realised its benefits.
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