Using Big Data and ML to Revolutionize Indian Agriculture
By Arijit Banerjee
Agriculture is the pivot of India’s economy. According to an IBEF report, more than 58% of the Indian rural households depend on agriculture as their means of livelihood. 10% of the country’s exports are constituted of agricultural exports. Furthermore, agriculture has a tremendous impact on the country’s Foreign Direct Investment. As per the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP), the cumulative contribution of the Indian agricultural services and agricultural machinery sectors to FDI equity is about $2.45 billion, during April 2000 to June 2017.
Challenges ahead in the agricultural industry
Despite its huge contributions to the economy and population, the agricultural sector has faced several challenges that demand institutional attention. These challenges range from the depleting ground water levels to price issues and natural calamities and many more. The projected growth in population and urbanization are two more such factors that will lead to a great impact on agriculture. One of the biggest challenges facing all, including the government, the industry and the people is to profitably feed the population which would have reached to approximately 9.6 billion by 2050. The drifting food security calls for innovative solutions that can keep the issue in check and also solve challenges for farmers at large.
What AI and ML can do to transform agricultural practices in India?
The government, along with private organizations, is now moving to disruptive technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Internet of Things (IOT) to look into the challenges faced by agriculture in India and offer solutions for them. NITI Ayog, the Government of India’s (GOI) think tank, has initiated a pilot project on ‘precision agriculture’ using AI in at least 10 districts of the seven selected states. The Ayog has also signed an agreement with tech leader IBM to come up with a predictive model to suggest crop yields, using AI. Even private organizations are focusing on developing solutions that can equip farmers in areas such as, climate control, pest surveillance, soil health, crop-loss risk assessment, etc.
With 140 million hectares of cultivable land under 127 agro-climatic regions capable of growing about one million varieties of over 3,000 different crops, the scope of opportunities for big data in India is beyond the known bounds. Data recorded in real-time is the major key to solving most of the current agricultural issues. GPS installed-tractors and other self-driven vehicles for accurate seed sowing, agri-robotics for aerial imagery, smart irrigation for conserving water, are just some of the ways in which technological innovations can revolutionize agriculture in India. Digitalization of the entire agricultural sector which is currently cash-driven is another major step in the direction of changing its traditional scape.
Are we ready for the upcoming agricultural revolution?
It is time that both the government as well as private organizations train and equip their employees to be ready for the technological advances that are emerging in the agricultural sector. It is clear that the ground for a great leap by India’s agricultural industry is set. Companies such as CropIn and Robert Bosch Engineering and Business Solutions are prepared to provide AI-based technologies such as remote sensing, climate control, warehouse management, etc. This would require experts who know more than general data science and analytics. The Agriculture Skill Council of India currently has 774 training partners, 545 industry partners, and 488,216 enrolled trainees. The need, however, is much more both in terms of numbers and the quality of training. A greater workforce, skilled in AI, ML, IOT, advanced analytics, risk analytics, soil health, and more, is required to carry out the digitalization and machination of agriculture in India. A positive move in the direction is that the GOI is supporting the AgriTech start-ups in India through its Startup India program. IBM sees an INR 5000 crore opportunity from AgriTech in India over the next five years.
These are evidences of tremendous growth as well as opportunity. After significant capital investment and leverage of emerging technologies, what we now need is advanced level of training and upskilling of manpower to usher Indian agriculture into the future.