As per a McKinsey report published earlier this year, agricultural technology or ag-tech has the potential to add $95 billion to the Indian economy by 2030. The report further stated that increased adoption of ag-tech holds the potential to transform India into a farming powerhouse. The ag-tech landscape flourished significantly between 2013 and 2020, and the technologies have majorly been leveraged to either reach directly to the farmers, or for expansion of services and products across adjacencies, or in terms of agri-finance.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are also being used extensively in the agri industry. Predictive analytics for crop management has led to reduction in costs and increase in accessibility for the farmers. Traditionally storage of foodgrains was done in godowns, which had simple boundary walls, and maybe a security guard to protect it. With the introduction of modern warehouses for food storage, enabled with AI and ML, many pain points have been addressed. A centrally controlled AI-based CCTV supervision to ensure 24x7 security of the foodgrain is now a reality. Realising that rural areas have erratic electricity supply, they are powered by solar energy, to ensure uninterrupted vigilance.

Potential to change industry

With CCTV monitoring one can now supervise the grains going in and going out, along with time stamps, without the need for human intervention through smart entry cards. Such security of collaterals is being replicated across multiple warehouses of the country and has the potential to change the industry with its innovations.Such systems coupled with other process enhancements have the potential to reduce foodgrain losses from 10 per cent to a merely 0.5 per cent through its unique management system, irrespective of the infrastructure where it is deployed. With a potential of saving the sector over ₹87,000 crores annually, the innovation of Warehousing Management has already received a patent from the Indian government.

Another major pain point for the farming industry is the quality check of agriculture produce. National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL) is the most trusted accreditation body that has rules set in accordance with ISO/IEC 17011. Traditionally, farmers have visited these centers, standing in long queues, just to get their products certified and get the right value for it. This often takes anywhere between a day or two, depending on the distance of the centre from their produce holding area. Automating the testing process has led to enhanced precision in Quality Assessment.

One can now get the QC done of their produce through mobile apps, such as India’s first NABL mobile application for this purpose, which is readily available on the net.With increasing penetration of mobile phones in rural areas, the farmers will certainly benefit from it. Now the farmer can simply click a picture of the grain and post it to receive a detailed report of the type and quality of the crop, and ultimately sell it in the market at the right price. The first ever such app has already facilitated about 1,41,060 inspections and thus inspected about 6.5 million tonnes of foodgrain in more than 20 States.

Making tech accessible

However as of now, just like any new product, early adapters are adopting it, as technology absorption has its due life cycle. Overcoming these challenges and future directions will depend on how we can make technology accessible to the farmers, where they need it. There must be solutions for the farmers’ rights at the mandi and or storage points, where farmers congregate to manage the supply chain of their crops. Setting up help centres viz Suvidha Kendras, with an expert handholding the farmers through this information dissemination process, will enable the farmers to reap the benefit of such technologies at any location using their smartphone; just by downloading the application and running the same based on his understanding that has been imparted at such Kendras.

The power of technology can be witnessed from the fact that since India’s independence till now only a few hundred Labs that are NABL accredited were made functional whereas with the advent of such technology just in a span of few months, industry has set up 30 such Kendras that are empowering thousands of Agri users to reap the benefit of. This has ushered such a revolution in the agri eco system where industry leaders have set up ambitious yet achievable targets of augmenting these 30 centres, with another 500 plus in the upcoming months.

Such food grain testing centres will blur the divide, and create a phygital ecosystem where the NABL certification will be accessible to the farmers right when they need it, and provide quality inspection results in as little as 5 minutes. This also fosters greater employment avenues as the centres will create greater scope for more people. The agricultural industry is at the cusp of a pivotal change where the benefits of these technologies will have an enormous progressive change as to how India not only produces crops, but how it stores and manages its entire supply chain, thereby making efficient and effective use of the resources that have gone in to produce our ever valuable source of life, namely food.

The author is CEO of SLCM Group (Sohan Lal Commodity Management Pvt. Ltd.