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Data revolution in Indian agriculture

  • Category
    Economy
  • Published
    19th Oct, 2021

Context

Two significant documents relating to the Indian agriculture sector were released recently. The first is a consultation paper on the India Digital Ecosystem of Agriculture (IDEA) from the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare (MoA&FW) and the second on Indian Agriculture: Ripe for Disruption from a private organisation, Bain and Company.

Background

  • Agriculture is a key pillar of Indian economy but continues to be beset with structural drawbacks.
    • Average landholding size has declined from 1.15 hectares in 2010-11 to 1.08 hectares; with around 68 per cent marginal farmers and value chain of most crops continues to consist of multiple intermediaries.
  • While production and supply chain inefficiencies abound keeping farmers small and marginal, the nation is catching up with global trends of both consumption (organic, healthy, convenience) and calls for sustainability.
  • There is an immediate need for disruption in the sector led by data and innovative technology, as it has potential to
    • solve for problems of scale
    • reduce information asymmetry
    • allow for supply chain disintermediation to make farming more profitable, inclusive and equitable

Analysis

How is data revolution, a global revolution?

  • We are living in the age of information that is called data by researchers from which inferences can be drawn and conclusions reached.
  • The quality, quantum, and coverage of data determine how effectively the decisions arrived at will fulfil our aims and objectives. The value of data is in their use.
  • Every organ, agency, or institution in a democratic set up is ultimately accountable to the public for every decision and action.
  • Hence, it is virtually a global revolution towards the rule of data or Data Raj.

Internet penetration in India

  • India has over 1 billion mobile phone connections and over 500 million smartphone users.
  • Backed by the lowest mobile data rates in the world, India is more than ready for digitisation.
  • Rapid proliferation of mobile technologies in rural populations could let farmers in these areas to improve productivity based on decision made backed by better information grounded on Big Data.

Data revolution in India

  • Data enabled digital tools offered by startups like Agribazaar, Crofarm and DeHaat are providing market access, price information.
  • They are being used to buy and sell agricultural produce, therefore managing food supply and averting possible scarcity.
  • Recent progress in Big Data and advanced analytics capabilities and agri-robotics such as aerial imagery, sensors, and sophisticated local weather forecasts can truly transform the agri-scape and thus holds promise for increasing global agricultural productivity over the next few decades.

What is Big Data in Agriculture?

  • Big data in the agriculture industry relies on the utilization of information, technology, and analytics in order to create useful data that can be utilized by farmers.
  • Big data can be used to provide information for the agricultural industry as a whole, or it can help specific segments or locations with improving their efficiency.
  • In order to create this vital information, big data relies on data mining processes.
  • Various modern systems such as machine learning statistics, artificial intelligence, and database systems form the tools of big data mechanics.

Government steps

  • Digital agriculture mission: A Digital agriculture mission has been initiated for 2021 -2025 by government for projects based on new technologies like artificial intelligence, block chain, remote sensing and GIS technology, use of drones and robots etc.
  • Agristack: Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers Welfar has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Microsoft Corporation to start a pilot project in 100 villages of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Haryana, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh. The MoU requires Microsoft to create a ‘Unified Farmer Service Interface’ through its cloud computing services. This sets in motion the ministry’s plan of creating ‘AgriStack’ (a collection of data driven technology-based interventions in agriculture), on which everything else will be built.
  • NeGPA: A Centrally Sponsored Scheme namely National e-Governance Plan in Agriculture (NeGPA) was initially launched in 2010-11 in 7 pilot States, which aims to achieve rapid development in India through use of Information & Communication Technology (ICT) for timely access to agriculture related information to the farmers.
  • Unified Farmer Service Platform (UFSP): UFSP is a combination of Core Infrastructure, Data, Applications and Tools that enable seamless interoperability of various public and private IT systems in the agriculture ecosystem across the country. 
  • Farmers Database: For better planning, monitoring, policy making, strategy formulation and smooth implementation of schemes for the farmers a nationwide Farmers Database linked with land records is being created. This Centralized Farmers Database shall be useful for various activities like issuing soil health cards, dissemination of crop advisories to the farmers, precision farming, smart cards for farmers to facilitate e-governance, crop insurance, settlement of compensation- claims, grant of agricultural subsidies, community/village resource centres etc. 
  • Soil health card scheme: It is meant to give each farmer soil nutrient status of his/her holding and advice him/her on the dosage of fertilizers and also the needed soil amendments Data will be developed for diagnostic soil analysis and deficient fields in each district. Nutrient recommendations will be prepared for Kharif and rabi crops.
  • National Guidelines for Data Quality in Surveys: These guidelines are released to provide comprehensive guiding principles and best practices  for mitigating errors  and biases that may occur during designing  the project,  conducting the surveys  and  analysing  the  responses.  The initiatives for the guidelines came from the National Data Quality Forum (NDQF) housed at the ICMR.

Significance of data in agriculture

  • Easy access to required information: Farmers, scientists, research centres and governments have always been recording data relevant for their work, e.g. crops yields, water usage, fertilizer and pesticide applications, input costs, market prices and major weather events. Farmers need accurate weather forecasts and accurate information on the inputs they can use.
  • Protection: Optimising input factors (e.g., nutrients, irrigation, and pest control) can help protect natural resources.
  • Better output: The use of granular data (for example, data for every 100 meter square of a field) and analytical capability to integrate various sources of information (such as weather, soil, and market prices) will help in increasing crop yield and optimising resource usage, lowering cost. 
  • Easy yield predication: Digital tools and data analytics are contributing towards efficient plant breeding with new variety development, crop selection, disease and pest prediction leading to yield predictions.
    • Other platforms available on internet or mobile phones use weather data and imagery for precision or smart agriculture that can localize and reduce pesticide and fertilizer application and improve yield predictions.
  • Enhanced sustainability: Data driven, contained and precise use of chemicals, not only improves farm profits but also sustainability. 

Future prospects

The challenges and opportunities of data is immense in a country like India with 638,000 villages and 130 million farmers speaking around 800 languages with 140 million hectares of cultivable land under 127 agro climatic regions capable of supporting 3,000 different crops and one million varieties.

Data based decisions at the farm level can improve resource utilization and conservation practices. Similar efforts at regional level, tracking inputs per kilogram of produce or impact of production on natural resources can contribute towards long term policies for land and water conservation Proliferation of data offers unprecedented opportunities to understand consumer needs and preferences of farmers and to deliver tailored services and products for organisations that can make sense of this data.

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