In recent years, India’s agricultural sector has undergone a substantial transformation, fuelled by the integration of technological advancements. There is an unprecedented emphasis on the necessity for digitisation in Indian agriculture, driven by the overarching goal of increasing productivity and ensuring sustainability in the face of evolving challenges. This shift in approach is not just essential, but a crucial move towards a future where technology serves as a catalyst for agricultural growth. The incorporation of digital technologies into agriculture, commonly referred to as digitisation, has emerged as a transformative force, with the potential to significantly boost agricultural productivity.

Niti Aayog, in a research on artificial intelligence, mentioned agriculture must expand at a rate of 4 per cent or higher to maintain an annual growth rate of 8-10 per cent. It predicted that by 2025, AI in agriculture would be worth $2.6 billion and would rise at a pace of 22.5 per cent Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR). Technology, today, helps farmers increase yield by assisting them in choosing better crops, hybrid seeds, and resource-efficient farming techniques.

In fact, across the globe, agricultural innovators are embracing the transformative potential of digital technologies to amplify the efficiency of the entire food supply chain. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is a prominent player in this movement, having meticulously crafted an E-agriculture strategy guide that serves as a repository of insights for nations aspiring to shape their unique E-agriculture strategies and master plans. This guide, a testament to the FAO’s strategic vision, serves as a guiding beacon, steering nations toward a holistic approach that seamlessly integrates technology to optimise every facet of agricultural processes — from production and distribution to communication.

In an era where the world increasingly recognises the revolutionary impact of digitalisation on agriculture, the FAO’s guide takes on a crucial role as an indispensable compass, navigating stakeholders through the dynamic and evolving landscape of possibilities. It not only facilitates the adoption of cutting-edge technologies, but also nurtures sustainable practices, contributing to the cultivation of a more efficient, resilient, and technologically advanced global food system.

Challenges in Indian agriculture

The Indian agricultural industry faces numerous challenges, including the impacts of climate change and unpredictable weather patterns. The additional issue of obsolete farming methods worsens these challenges, leading to less-than-optimal productivity and increased vulnerability. However, amidst these difficulties, there are untapped opportunities that can be harnessed through the digitalisation process.

Opportunities through digitisation

Precision Farming adapted to the Indian context: The adoption of digitisation facilitates precision farming through the utilisation of data-driven technologies such as GPS, sensors, and drones. This allows farmers to optimise the use of resources such as water, fertilisers, and pesticides, leading to heightened efficiency and decreased waste.

Precision farming empowers farmers to make well-informed decisions based on real-time data, ultimately contributing to improved crop yields. The adoption of precision farming in the Indian context is crucial due to fragmented land holdings and the country’s wide crop portfolio. The emergence of low-cost technologies like smartphones at reasonable prices and falling prices of technology intervention promise this required adaptation.

Data-driven decision making

Digital tools provide farmers access to vast amounts of data related to weather patterns, soil health, and market trends. Analysing this data allows farmers to make informed decisions on planting, harvesting, and marketing their produce. Predictive analytics can also help farmers anticipate challenges and take proactive measures.

Smart irrigation systems

Digitisation enables the implementation of smart irrigation systems that monitor soil moisture levels and weather conditions in real-time. By automating irrigation processes, farmers can ensure optimal water usage, reduce water wastage, and mitigate the risk of crop loss due to drought or excessive watering.

E-marketplaces and agtech platforms

Digital platforms connect farmers directly with buyers, eliminating intermediaries, and enabling fair pricing. E-marketplaces open expansive avenues for farmers, extending their reach to consumers far beyond local boundaries. Further, AgTech platforms provide invaluable services such as soil testing, crop monitoring, and advisory support, enhancing farmers’ ability to refine and optimise their practices.

Farm management software

Digital farm management software assists farmers in planning, monitoring, and analysing their agricultural activities. These tools help optimise resource allocation, track expenses, and manage inventory efficiently. By providing a centralised platform for farm management, these technologies contribute to improved productivity.

Capacity building and education

The process of digitisation elegantly facilitates the wide dissemination of agricultural knowledge and optimal practices through various online platforms. Farmers can readily access enriching training modules, expert advice, and a plethora of educational resources. This empowerment provides farmers the essential and information required to adeptly adopt modern and efficient farming techniques.

Drone technology, the new disruptor

Drone technology has emerged the most recent disruptor in the agricultural sector. Across the globe, agricultural drones are increasingly employed to optimise yields and monitor crop production and growth. Australia, Malaysia, and Singapore, have harnessed the benefits of drones. Notably, Israel utilises AI-equipped drones for the specialised task of apple plucking, employing advanced machines with robotic arms designed to discern and harvest only ripe fruits.

The impact of this technology is remarkable. The global market for agricultural drones, valued at approximately $1.7 billion in 2022, is projected to reach around $7.9 billion by 2030, at a growth rate of 21.2 per cent CAGR. India, recognised for its potential as a global food hub, acknowledges that reliance on high-yield seeds alone is insufficient for boosting production. The emphasis is shifting towards reducing input costs while increasing output, with drone technology possibly playing a pivotal role in driving this transformative change.

Strengthening sustainability through technology

In the context of agricultural evolution, the infusion of technology goes beyond the traditional storyline of simply boosting productivity. Instead, it emerges as a dynamic force propelling Indian agriculture towards a future defined by sustainability. This transformative journey is highlighted by the integration of cutting-edge smart irrigation systems, effectively minimising water wastage and optimising the use of resources.

Precision fertigation, another technological aspect, plays a crucial role in reducing the excessive use of fertilisers, aligning agricultural practices with overarching sustainability objectives. Real-time data-driven insights empower the implementation of climate-smart agricultural practices, providing farmers the tools to gracefully adapt to changing weather patterns and fortify their resilience against natural disasters.

The adoption of blockchain technology could solidify the commitment to sustainability, ensuring traceability and transparency throughout the entire supply chain. This seamless integration of technology not only facilitates ethical practices, but also nurtures a culture of sustainable agriculture. It echoes the perspectives of industry thought leaders who recognise that the potential of technology lies not just in productivity gains, but in shaping a resilient and environmentally conscious agricultural landscape for the future.

Crucial focus

Looking ahead, a crucial focus lies in instilling trust and confidence among farmers as they navigate the realm of new technologies. Tailored training and educational programmes take centre stage, serving as indispensable tools to familiarise farmers with the diverse benefits and functionalities of digital tools. Furthermore, the establishment of robust policy frameworks and the cultivation of collaborative public-private partnerships emerge as pivotal components, incentivising the widespread adoption of digital practices and fostering a supportive environment for sustainable innovation in Indian agriculture.

The call for digitalisation in Indian agriculture surpasses mere reactions to challenges; it represents a proactive leap into a future where technology emerges as the empowering force for farmers, amplifying productivity and ensuring the sustainability of the agricultural sector. Embarking on this transformative journey through precision agriculture, data-driven insights, and intelligent technologies, India can chart a course towards a more resilient, efficient, and sustainable agricultural future, where innovation and environmental harmony seamlessly converge.

In the coming years, as India’s agriculture embraces the digital sunrise, a future will blossom where technology and tradition unite, nurturing not just crops, but a nation’s well-being.

The author is MD & CEO of Rallis India