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Transforming the current agribusiness value chain

Changing scenario in agriculture

On the other end of the spectrum where traditional field crops are grown, the market dynamics are changing every day. Major challenges confronting our farms include declining productivity, diminishing and degrading natural resources, a rapidly growing demand for food (not just for quantity but also for quality), stagnating farm incomes, fragmented land holdings, and unprecedented climate change. It has been established that technology adoption modernizes farmers’ production practices and leads to uniform annual returns for farmers, reduced risk of crop failure, and increased yields[1].

[1] IBEF, 2017

High-tech horticulture

It was not long ago when iceberg lettuce in Southern India came primarily from cooler places namely Pune or the Nilgiris, which meant consumers in these states had to wait for days before receiving their produce. Even today, for such exotic vegetables namely asparagus, celery, microgreens, kale, etc.; there are not many growers, despite the fact that these are increasingly being used in food these days.

Coming to more staple vegetables, one would not imagine tomatoes and capsicum being grown traditionally in Rajasthan although the state has made great strides in adopting irrigation. On the contrary, agriculture department of Rajasthan is planning to experiment with the use of hydroponics technique in the cultivation of vegetables such as tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, cucumber and coloured capsicum[1].

There are numerous other examples as these which show that value chain demands are changing, as new and affordable technology is brought in. It is complimented by other factors such as rising disposable income and increasing awareness on health among consumers, efficient supply chains, novel technologies in storage and preservation, amongst others.

With such innovations, we can envision an entirely different agri supply chain within few decades, with salad greens (and other food products) sourced in local communities, grown in indoor farms. Whether using aeroponics, hydroponics, aquaponics or technologies yet to be developed that can be applied to other foods, food will increasingly be grown closer to home, generating benefits of freshness, lower environmental footprint, and higher productivity and efficiency.

[1] Hindustan Times, Jan 2018

What would it take to augment tech-enabled agriculture in India?

Private and public investments in Smart Agriculture have been aggressive in recent years. However, the sector in India has been conservative in its full-scale adoption. Given the high costs, viable solutions are required for small and medium Indian farmers to deploy IoT (Internet of Things)[1] devices so as not to reduce their profitability margins[2].

This paper explores three major factors which will be crucial in developing the ecosystem for tech-enabled agriculture in India:

  • Smart Agriculture – affordable and localized technologies and supporting physical infrastructure;
  • Access to credit; and
  • Policy support.

[1] The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to a network comprised of physical objects capable of gathering and sharing electronic information.

[2] India Times, July 2017


1. Smart Agriculture – Status & the need

Smart farming based on IoT technologies will enable growers and farmers to reduce waste and enhance productivity. It is the application of ICT into agriculture. It involves integration of physical infrastructure, resources, information to create a seamless linkages for flow of information as well as goods.

1.1. Information required at various stages of agriculture

Farming is akin to any other business activity and requires critical decisions to be made. Accurate data sought timely can improve the impact of the decision, manifold. In a typical crop cycle, there are various instances where decision needs to be taken as depicted in the figure below.

If accurate data is provided at each stage, it would lead to better decision making by the farmer/grower.

 

 

1.2. Use of ICT and IoT in Agriculture

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are the technologies used in the conveying, manipulation and storage of data by electronic means. These technologies are any device, tool, or application that includes anything ranging from radio to satellite imagery to mobile phones, farm automation or electronic money transfers.

ICT can be used in agriculture to:

  • Improve access to information for farmers and to provide data which helps in better decision making
  • Digitally connect farmers to various other stakeholders in the agricultural value chain
  • Enable automation and provide remote access to farm equipment, to the farmer/grower

The accurate, timely &relevant information, and services provided to the farmers using ICT create an environment for more remunerative agriculture.

For a typical farmer in India, ICT can offer a host of services with minimum efforts

Information can be provide by external agencies such as commodity exchanges, banks, call centers, government agencies etc. or it can be gathered on farm by use of ICT and IoT.

Although still nascent in India, Internet of Things (IoT), has already impacted the country’s agriculture sector over the last few years. To name a few, hand held devices to check crop health, smart sensors to get real time soil health, smart irrigation systemsand smart livestock management systems classify under IoT in agriculture, and have already begun penetrating the Indian market

The figure below depicts level of adoption of various technologies in the agricultural space.

1.3.  Technologies used

Barring the technologies such as micro-irrigation and fertigation systems which have already been popularized in India, new and evolving technologies are touched upon in this section.

1.3.1. Analytics

Analytics is being used across the value chain to improve operations. Precision agriculture is an excellent example of use of analytics. It is accomplished through use of different equipment and software for data collection and analysis.

1.3.1.1. Monitoring Technologies

Aerial Monitoring Tools

Aerial monitoring, also known as remote sensing, can be conducted by drones, airplanes, and satellites, which monitor conditions from different altitudes to reveal patterns that highlight irrigation problems, soil variation, deforestation, changes in livestock, soil erosion, pest and fungal infestations, and other information that may not be easily apparent at ground level.

Ground-Based Monitoring Tools

In- or on-ground sensors can be deployed to detect crop conditions, weather data, and many other details, which can then be transmitted to decision analytics platforms via the IoT. Examples of data which can be gathered through this method are data on crop stress, air pressure, humidity, temperature, chlorophyll, canopy biomass, rainfall etc.

Monitoring through handheld devices

Hand-held devices are especially useful for last mile connectivity. They can be used for micro-scale data collection, across large geographical area. For eg. milk testing devices, developed by National Dairy Research Institute (NDRI) Karnal, which give quick results.

1.3.1.2. Data Analytics

The volume of data for agribusiness is steadily expanding due to sensors, satellite monitoring, and other information gathering technologies[1]. As the quantity, quality, speed, and flow of data improves, data analytics platforms and machine learning applications can enable better practices in farming, processing, and manufacturing[2].

[1] “IoT & Big Data In Agribusiness: Driving Future Sector Growth,” BMI Research, October 21, 2016

[2] Technology in

Agribusiness, August 2017, Stanford Value Chain Innovation Initiative

1.3.2. Automation

Automation can be segmented into two types: basic automation, which simply replaces manual labor to make a process more productive, and intelligent automation, which not only replaces manual labor but allows for better decision making using data.

1.3.3. Business and Operations Management

Information technology applications are helping farmers understand different methods of agricultural production and are making them more aware of operating costs and other variables affecting profits

1.4. Facilitating Adoption of Smart Agriculture in India

Smart Agriculture can be used to improve last mile connectivity to farmers.

1.4.1. Constraints

For Farmers – As mentioned earlier, high cost of technology, prohibits small, and marginal farmers from easily adopting these technologies. The fact that many of these farmers are not well versed with technology, and lack of a robust telecom infrastructure further hamper adoption of technology.

For Entrepreneurs – On the other hand there is a new generation of entrepreneurs who is embracing such innovative and cutting edge technologies with enthusiasm.  These technologies too require high investment including pilot runs, and operational cost.

1.4.2. Required support

For Farmers

  • One stop solution for farmers through ICT platforms – parallel extension systems
  • Affordable technologies for adoption on large scale
  • Customized content for local farmers
  • Promote ICT through extension system
  • Establishing supporting physical infrastructure such as cold storages, farm gate processing facilities etc

For Entrepreneurs

  • Provide incubation facilities for entrepreneurs since many are from non-farming background
  • Facilitate institutional credit and encourage private funding

2. Access to Credit – A critical enabler

2.1. Existing sources of credit for farmers

2.2. Institutional credit for entrepreneurs

2.2.1. Issues faced by entrepreneurs in accessing credit

2.3. FDI as a way of promoting smart agriculture in India


3. Government initiatives and policy support

3.1. Existing policies which promote smart agriculture

3.1.1. Policies for farmers

3.1.2. Policies for entrepreneurs

3.2. Lacunae in current policies

3.3. Modifications required as per changing markets


4. Conclusions & way forward


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