Every day, the population of the world is increasing by about 220,000 people. That’s an extra billion mouths to feed within the next 12 years — a number expected to double by 2050 as the total population approaches 10 billion. As food consumption demands increase, so will the need to shift to healthier, more sustainable diets. Farms need to produce more food in the next 50 years than they did in the last 10 thousand, meaning that by 2050, food production must increase by 70 per cent to keep pace. Efficiency, productivity, and sustainability have become mandates for every country.
While it is true that agriculture is the mainstay of India’s socioeconomic identity and industry, the sector has its share of challenges that arise from certain structural limitations, such as low per-capita land ownership, lack of awareness, and erratic climate that stifle growth and productivity. To address these issues and to increase farmer incomes, Indian agriculture requires technology-assisted modernisation backed by strong and radical reforms. This is where agritech is likely to play a pivotal role. By leveraging technology in agricultural operations and maximising efficiencies time is saved, costs reduced, and wastage minimised. Agritech usage also helps develop the skill sets needed to complete all this.
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Tech role in transforming agriculture
Brazil is a great example of how research and innovation can help achieve a significant production increase with a minimal increase in the area under agriculture. The use of seed technology, crop rotation, double cropping, cutting-edge machinery, and precision agriculture has helped Brazil go from being a food importer to one of the world’s top producers and exporters. A similar approach could deliver a significant impact in India too.
The various issues plaguing Indian agriculture can be mapped against corresponding tech solutions and thereby, help the sector overcome its current and future limitations. A rich array of agritech tools is today available, which can help in all the multiple dimensions of agritech deployment. These include drones, satellite photography and sensors, IoT-based sensor networks, phase tracking, weather forecasts, automated watering, light and heat control, etc. The digitisation of food systems, tech-enabled logistical processes, traced and tracked storage facilities, and financial transactions combined with insights generated from crunching real-time data can be a boon for the farming community and policymakers alike.
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Precision and sustainable farming
Climate change and erratic weather challenges can be addressed through precision agriculture involving data management, logistics, and analysis, which can help greatly by leveraging data points across the crop lifecycle of agricultural and forestry operations to ensure efficient field operations that align to plan and optimise yield and maximise profitability.
Sustainability and waste management are areas where radical agritech goes beyond traditional farming to deliver smart solutions. These empower farmers and foresters to manage, plan, monitor, and optimise cultivation, synchronise harvest logistics, and enhance equipment with cutting-edge technology to create sustainability at scale.
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There are advanced agritech technologies that convert data into smart information that enables efficient planning and execution, precise machine and workflow controls, and more efficient operations. For example, there are proprietary technologies that convert data into intelligent information. This can enable smart planning, efficient execution, precise machine controls, and automated workflows to optimise operations and increase profits. Today, the best companies can make available geospatial mapping and analysis solutions that help farmers create precise and predictive agriculture operations, maximising the use of land with minimal resources.
Mapping and analysis solutions make it easier to track and monitor production, whether through multispectral imagery analysis to identify stressed crops or AI-powered feature extraction for crop inventories. These solutions can help farmers and agriculture managers create digital farming methods that streamline operations and enable them to quickly pivot to achieve optimal crop yields.
Agricultural machine manufacturers can leverage solutions, such as antennas with paid geo-positioning signals, displays for machine control, and software for management and field monitoring. With drones, it is possible to monitor every second of what is done on farms and monitor every centimetre of the plantation. Advanced technologies can help farmers create efficiencies and reduce waste by enabling farmers to make better-informed decisions. For example, certain very advanced solutions can digitally capture, connect, and visualise the entire ecosystem — including terrain, soil, groundwater, weather, state of crops, and the location and movement of equipment. Photogrammetry solutions can help create accurate representations of the earth from remotely sensed data, making the information-gathering process easier.
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Leading solution providers now have a unique GIS management platform that displays geospatial data in a single unified map view for efficient processing, analysis, presentation, and sharing.
The agriculture sector can now take full advantage of Industry 4.0 technologies, namely those driven by artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), the internet of things (IoT), Big Data, and other technologies that will deeply impact and transform the industry. This further builds on digital practices mobility and open innovation. These technologies imply a transformation of the production infrastructures: connected farms, new production equipment, and connected tractors and machines. They will enable productivity, as well as increased quality and environmental protection. But they also generate modifications in the value chain and business models, emphasising knowledge gathering, analysis, and exchange to boost efficiency and productivity. Add to this, the next-gen internet connections, such as 5G and above, autonomous agricultural machinery, satellite imagery, etc., along with the increasing demand for traceability in the food distribution chain and the greater promise of agritech in fuelling radical shifts in Indian agriculture becomes hugely apparent.
The author is Executive Vice President & Managing Director-Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence, India and MSC Software, Indo-Pacific.
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