Syngenta to focus on digital agriculture in a big way in India

Subramani Ra Mancombu | | Updated on: Jul 20, 2022
(From left) Syngenta India country head and Managing Director Susheel Kumar with Feroz Sheikh, Chief Information Officer and Digital Officer, Syngenta Group

(From left) Syngenta India country head and Managing Director Susheel Kumar with Feroz Sheikh, Chief Information Officer and Digital Officer, Syngenta Group

Company plans to launch app for farmers, to create agri entrepreneurs for drone services

With India figuring among the top five of its priority countries, global agricultural science and technology major Syngenta plans to bring its latest seed and crop protection technology to India with a special focus on digital agriculture.

The Switzerland-based firm, which operates in over 100 countries across the world, is in particular keen on digitalising a farmer-centric ecosystem, said Susheel Kumar, Country Head and Managing Director, Syngenta India. 

Moreover, when the company launches a product globally, it is done in India simultaneously.

Next big driver 

“Technology is the next big driver of agriculture. The scenario has changed over the past five years, with the younger generation finding farming attractive. These young people are looking for digital innovation in agriculture,” he told BusinessLine in an interview in Pune. 

Kumar and Syngenta Group Chief Information and Digital Officer Feroz Sheikh were in Pune last week to launch a biodiversity sensor project and drone yatra as part of the firm’s digital initiatives. 

Cusp of change

“Because of the entry of younger people, Indian agriculture is on the cusp of a change. The change will be a huge leap and not incremental,” Sheikh said. 

Stating that there is a big change in Indian agriculture, he said farmers were receptive to new technologies and had turned commercial. “Rural youth, who are professionals, are getting back to agriculture. The brightest are getting back to farming, driving adoption of digital technology,” he said. 

Sheikh said digitalisation was also enhancing the scalability of pilot projects.

As part of these initiatives, Syngenta will soon launch a grower app, which will be “one of the biggest in the world,” Kumar said. The app will be launched in 8-9 languages and provide advisories, updates, and alerts on nine crops, including cotton, wheat, vegetables, rice, and maize.

“The app will consist of a personalised crop calendar based on the farmer’s sowing date, planting methods, sowing materials, soil nutrition status, weather-based advisory or alerts, nutrient recommendations, biotic and abiotic stress, image-based disease diagnostics, and an interactive chat box for farmers to interact, seeking suggestions or sharing their experience,” he said.

Sheikh said the app was in the beta version and once it is ready, it will be uploaded to the app stores. “The app will also provide mandi (market) prices. Farmers can download it free of cost, and the app will have prediction models based on artificial intelligence (AI),” he said. 

Insurance cover pilot

Syngenta, the first company in India to get the Central Insecticide Board’s permission to spray an insecticide and a fungicide using drones on paddy, cotton, and soyabean, had conducted drone trials for over two years before launching it now. “We plan to create agri entrepreneurs who can offer drone services to farmers,” Kumar said. 

The company was encouraged by the overall technology adoption by farmers. “It has never been like this. The speed of technology adoption is amazing. Farmers are open to trying and learning new things,” he said. 

The Swiss-based firm has launched a pilot project to provide insurance cover to chilli growers. “We have tied up with the Agricultural Insurance Company to provide a fair price for farmers. They will get compensation if the prices drop,” he said.

Syngenta has a large number of Indian engineers in its team, who come up with creative innovations for the global market. In turn, India, which is crucial in view of a large number of smallholding farmers, benefits from this, Sheikh said.

Regenerative agri

The agro-science major was encouraging regenerative agriculture that would result in better soil health and nourishment. The Chief Information and Digital Officer said it is one way of fighting climate change and ensuring sustainability.

Kumar said farmers are encouraged to go in for crop rotation and also zero tilling to ensure carbon emissions are at a minimum. “We are developing protocols on what farmers can do in between seasons,” the India unit MD said. 

As part of its corporate social responsibility (CSR), Syngenta is helping to strengthen rural infrastructure by making mandis “a better place to sit and sell,” Kumar said. 

It will take initiatives to help farmers form farmer producer organisations (FPOs) as part of this. Sheikh said the company will make technology available to the FPOs but would not covert to business.

(The author was in Pune at the invitation of Syngenta)

Published on July 20, 2022
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