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Digital agriculture and its potential impact for marginal farmers

November 11
20:18 2019

Digital agriculture is a term that has been around for a long time now. In broad terms, it is a way of doing agriculture where digital data of the crops is collected and analysed to take some decisions for getting better results. The data collection could be through manual recording of parameters, or by using sensors of various kinds. The benefits of this approach are many, the most significant being the ability to take informed decisions and fast actions to ensure a healthy crop yield.


With better sensors, faster data collection through drones and satellites, live streaming and cloud processing systems, digital agriculture is changing at a rapid pace. Our data processing capabilities are becoming more powerful with the integration of Artificial Intelligence and Big Data Analytics. Technologically, we are progressing very fast. The benefits of precision farming seem obvious to us – better yield, less resource consumption, better crop quality, and ultimately more income for farmers. But it is still not a widespread practice in India. The percentage of progressive farmers is still very less compared to the total agriculture done in India. What is holding back the majority of the farmers?


Let us discuss the on-ground scenario for marginal farmers to understand the situation better. There could be multiple reasons why it is difficult to achieve technology adoption at the grassroots – lack of awareness being the most often cited reason. But I believe that the major factor is the risk-taking ability of the farmers themselves.


Marginal farmers have small landholdings and a very low appetite for risk. They use excessive pesticides without caring about the harm it does to the soil, simply because they cannot afford to lose the crop to diseases and pest attacks. The unpredictable nature of disease outbreaks and pest attacks means that there is no assured return to the farmers for their efforts throughout the season. If they lose the crop for even a single season, they are unable to recover the input costs, with serious repercussions on their financial situation for the next few years.

From a loan and insurance perspective also, they face many issues. Getting loans from banks is often a long, time-taking process, so many times the farmers borrow money from their local private lenders or traders at very high interest rates. In case of crop losses for the season, claiming insurance is also a big challenge. For banks and insurance providers too, it takes time to check the details about the farmers, the historical yield of their crops, their credibility and many such details. This due diligence process takes up time and resources, which limits the farmers’ access to capital at the right time.


Now the situation seems a more understandable. If we can somehow increase the risk-taking ability of the marginal farmers, it will become easier to convince them to take up digital practices and precision agriculture.

There are many things that can be done for this, but I will focus on one particular solution here – easing the farmer’s access to capital in a timely manner. We can do this by flipping the problem on its head – we try to make it easier for banks to provide loans and insurance to the farmers.

Let us visualize a digital platform that can do accurate, real-time yield prediction of the crops, along with continuously monitoring the crop health. From a technology perspective, the solution might look something like this – regularly collecting crop data in real-time through drones and satellites, and using Artificial Intelligence to analyse the crop health, predict the yield, and assess crop damage and losses in real time. Making this data available to the banks and insurance providers will drastically fasten their due diligence for giving out loans to farmers, and for processing the insurance claims as well. Farmers could get the money within 1-2 days because their lenders are updated on what is going on in the farms. It is a transparency in the system which will improve the scenario for both the parties.

Once they have some assurance on the financials of the process, the farmers will not be afraid to experiment with new things or accept new methodologies for agriculture – it could be either precision agriculture or less use of pesticides. With better yields and healthier crops, the farmers can get a higher income for their efforts, along with a reduction in their input costs. It will also encourage farmers to use pesticides responsibly, take care of the soil health, and optimize their resources, bringing high productivity, ecological balance and sustainability in the agriculture industry.

About Author

Piyush Kumar, Co-Founder IgnisNova and Agriforetell - B.E.(Hons.) - Mechanical

Piyush Kumar, Co-Founder IgnisNova and Agriforetell - B.E.(Hons.) - Mechanical

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