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Digital Agriculture

Agriculture sector has a responsibility of feeding the growing population on the planet which is projected to reach 10 billion by 2050. The attempts to improve yields and productivity of farm has tempted farmers to over doze chemicals into the soil. The crop protection industry has made all possible inducements to introduce pesticides to reduce crop losses. These improvements have not been without a toll on soil health and ecological degradation all around. Digital agriculture has come at the most opportune time to the help of farming communities to improve productivity by counterbalancing the down sides caused by agri-chemicals.

For a long time agriculture was untouched by the sweeping technological developments led by digitization in many other sectors. Digitization now holds potential to unlock employment, opportunities, bridge the rural-urban income divide, and empower the farming community to easier access to the market. What remains a question is the readiness of the Agriculture sector for such sweeping changes.

The critical elements essential for the digitization of agriculture have been the advancements in sensor technologies. These advanced sensors have made Data gathering from all hitherto variables possible. Today moisture levels, temperatures, wind speeds, light intensity can be measured. Such data fed to the diagnostic software enables farmers to take informed decisions.

Various developments and innovations in IOT are useful for data gathering. It helps farmers in monitoring field conditions remotely. Precise measurement of inputs enables better utilization of natural resources and control of input cost. Farmers can monitor high yielding seeds varieties, implement solutions that protect crops.

“Digitization holds potential to unlock employment, opportunities, bridge the rural-urban income divide, and empower the farming community to easier access to the market. What remains a question is the readiness of the Agriculture sector for such sweeping changes.”

- Anjali Hardikar, Managing Partner, Kokan Organica LLP, India

Digitization has enabled precise measurement. It is a resource efficient approach which has created newer possibilities of more sustainable and productive agriculture. Positioning technologies such as GPS, remote operations of drone and UAVs are further enabling precise predictions of weather and other environmental influences.

Digitization in agriculture has opened possibilities of horizontal and vertical integration of systems and data. The data flow can support decision tree within the farm as well as across the farms. Farmers can take better informed decisions and improve yield and reduce wastages. Digitization makes no distinction between organic and conventional agriculture. It offers equal opportunities of improvement to both farming systems. With digitization, agriculture is becoming knowledge intensive and has gained a flavor of contemporariness.

Digitization in farming, has a spillover effect to the entire supply chain and the food industry. It is now possible to map out how food is produced, processed, transported, retailed and finally what is the shelf life available for the consumer. This helps reduce the food wastage. Digitization in agriculture reduces transaction costs, facilitates communication, and can transform the farming and food business. It contributes significantly to food safety by improving predictability, empowering controls, and enabling remote operations. Digitization of farming sector is a paradigm shift causing on-farm as well as off-farm improvements.

Digital agriculture in developing countries faces many barriers. Connectivity in rural areas and remote locations is a big hurdle. Wider network coverage may require state interventions and support. Digital technologies are capital intensive. It calls for initial capex for investments. Initially it may appear to favor the larger size farms however, eventually it will eliminate the divide between small and large farmers.

Another barrier could be farming community’s reluctance to sharing the data across the value chain. This barrier may go away with digital literacy and taking larger perspective of farming-food-integrated-supply chain.

Digital agriculture is a revolution in waiting. Some people call it Agriculture 4.0. It will certainly make farmers globally competitive, while being locally responsible. As an additional benefit, digital Agriculture will certainly invite the youth back to rural areas to practice and transform agriculture.

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Anjali Hardikar

Managing Partner, Kokan Organica LLP, India