Rapid agricultural transformation is the need of the hour notjust in view of its significant contribution to a economy but also because of the rising global food security concerns. It is estimated that nearly 670 million people across the world will be undernourished in 2030. While the ongoing war in Ukraine has already altered the global food supply dynamics, it is expected that the demand for food by 2050 will be 56 per cent more than what it was in 2010 as around 2 billion likely to be added to the global population by then.  

Amid threats of population explosion and climate change-related uncertainties, agricultural processes need to become modern with the help of the latest technologies, especially in countries like India where farming has always been fraught with uncertainties.  

One of the biggest problems for farmers in India has been their inability to estimate the outcome of their efforts as they mostly depended on manual methods. This limits their ability to command a better price, obtain formal credit lines, go to larger markets and even secure insurance claims within time.  

New revolution 

Things are now changing fast for agriculture and farmers in India, thanks to strong substantial Government backing for the use of new technologies like drones and Artificial Intelligence (AI) in farming. 

The use of drones and the latest industry 4.0 technologies are set to trigger agricultural revolution in the country. While pilot projects in agriculture are already running in many parts of India, several states have firmed up plans to implement and migrate to use of technology in areas like crop estimation to boost farmers’ physical and financial health. 

Andhra Pradesh has made a plan to launch 10,000 drones in phases through its Rythu BharosaKendra. States such as Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are reportedly working with drone manufacturers, farmers’ organizations and state agriculture universities to roll out drones this year.  

How drones and new technologies help 

Here are some ways in which drones use and the latest technologies help in intelligent crop estimation: 

* Images generated by drones over farmlands serve as crucial inputs for crop yield estimation and validation. Using multispectral and hyperspectral payloads, drones increase the accuracy of yield analysis. The rich data derived from such analysis can be used by the farmers, insurers and other stakeholders to make near-accurate estimates of crop yield and determine expected income or loss in advance.  

* Data collected with the use of technology can lead to timely agri-insurance claim settlement under schemes such as Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY). 

* Government and market players would be in a better position to fix the demand and supply metrics, leading to an increase in farmers’ income and drones help in higher accuracy.  

* Drones can remove the limitations of satellite monitoring, which is often limited by cloudy weather conditions. Especially in the hills, satellite imagery is affected by shadows depending on the time of the day. In contrast, images obtained with the help of drones have better resolution.  

* With the combined use of remote sensing methods like space imaging and the power of drones, crop yield estimation and loss assessment can be more effective, accurate and timelier 

Eye in the sky 

Not just crop yield estimation, the use of drones and technology can ensure that crops like wheat, paddy, chilli, cotton and others receive an adequate amount of fertilizer, insecticide or pesticide in the quickest possible time.  

Drones can also be used for carrying out routine manual farm activities like spraying pesticides, maximizing overall productivity by optimizing crop inputs and reducing wastage. With the help of mounted cameras, they can act like an eye in the sky for farmers, enabling them to monitor crop growth. 

By using multispectral camera sensors mounted on drones, farmers can identify crop-related diseases in advance and take corrective action to boost output.  

Traditionally, farm yields have been measured manually at the time of harvest. This practice delayed insurance claim settlements and also provided farmers with little time to plan an effective sale strategy, often forcing them to sell at a lower price. The use of sophisticated technologies can now enable farmers to secure better returns for their efforts. At the same time, they allow banks to disburse farm loans faster by making crop assessments digital. 

PMFBY insurance claims

There has also been a significant push from the Government for faster adoption of the latest technologies in the agriculture sector. In 2020, the Government of India launched a large scale pilot study in 100 districts of 10 states to assess crop yields at the gram panchayat level by use of advanced technology to ensure timely settlement of claims under the Pradhan Mantra Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY).  

Similarly, in Budget 2022, the Government announced plans to launch Kisan Drones for crop assessments, digitization of land records and spraying of insecticides and nutrients. 

The policy push and latest advances in technology for agriculture will hopefully make India strong in food security, and enabling it to support other nations as well.  

(The author is Co-Founder, Agrotech India)